The Big Ten, or half of the Big Ten, continued its non-conference success this weekend. The conference still has the second-best non-conference record, and now only the Big Ten, the NCHC and the ECAC have winning percentages above .500.
Ohio State is one of the last remaining unbeaten teams with a 3-0-2 record, but the Wolverines and Nittany Lions both went unbeaten this weekend. Michigan State was unsurprisingly swept by Denver and the Gophers were swept by St. Cloud State. Wisconsin defeated the NTDP U18 team 4-3.
The Buckeyes swept Bowling Green to stretch their undefeated streak to five games. On Friday, the Buckeyes scored twice in the last frame to tie the game and win it. Ohio State won 6-1 on Saturday. Matt Tomkins started both games.
The Wolverines played close games with Michigan Tech. Michigan was ahead on Friday night 3-1 but allowed two goals in the third period to the Huskies. It looked like overtime was near, but freshman Will Lockwood scored a shorthanded goal with 52 seconds left. On Saturday it was almost the same, except Cutler Martin scored the game-tying goal late for Michigan. The Wolverines again used different goaltenders, with Hayden Lavigne making 31 saves on Saturday and Jack LaFontaine making 42 on Saturday.
I still don’t know what to make of Michigan State, which after allowing 13 goals to Lake Superior, only gave up five to Denver. The Spartans dropped the first game 2-1 and then the second 3-1. Ed Minney made 24 saves on Friday and John Lethemon made 23 on Saturday. Penn State tied Notre Dame 3-3 and then won 3-2. While Penn State beating Notre Dame wasn’t expected, it’s not an upset. It’s too early in the season for teams that are still trying to find themselves for any of them to be really good. “Upset” is a term that should generally never be used.
This was not an easy weekend for the Gophers, which had a 5-2 lead in the third period of Friday’s game. The Huskies scored three goals in the last 10 minutes to tie the game, and Jake Wahlin won it for the Huskies in overtime. On Saturday, the Gophers had a 2-0 lead after the first. But St. Cloud scored two goals in the second and the game winner with seven minutes left in the third. This was the toughest competition the Gophers had faced so far, and it didn’t go so well for them.
(After the jump: Too many penalties, what Ohio State’s unbeaten record means and have the Wolverines finally found their goaltender)
Too many penalties
The NCAA is trying to call tighter games this season, keeping a strict watch on infractions. But no college hockey team was truly prepared for the change and it has resulted in a stifling amount of penalties that are ruining the game. There’s nothing fun about watching a game where the whistle blows every five seconds and where there’s no 5-on-5 hockey.
And it completely changes which teams can succeed and which won’t. Special teams have long been emphasized, and always will be, but it’s one thing to know you need to score on the man-advantage when you’re getting maybe four opportunities per game, and another when you’re getting 12. (Quinnipiac had 12 chances against BU. BU killed all of them). The increase in penalties just changes the entire game, exhausts both teams and makes college hockey less fun to watch.
I was at Agganis last weekend for the BU-Quinnipiac game and the amount of times they called penalties drove me insane. The whistle was blowing all the time, someone was always on a power play. On Friday night, when I was trying to watch as many Big Ten games as possible, it seemed like there was a power play happening for every team at the same time.
The teams aren’t used to this so they don’t know how to play under the “new rules” yet, and it might take them a long time to adjust. Which means we’re in for a long season. It’s only been three weeks and Arizona State leads the country with 204 penalty minutes and 71 penalties. There are 15 teams – yes 15 – that have already accrued over 100 penalty minutes, including Notre Dame, Boston College, Providence, Boston University, Clarkson, St. Lawrence, Northeastern and Quinnipiac.
What Ohio State’s unbeaten record means
Nothing. Several years ago Merrimack was the last undefeated team in the country and everyone thought they were the best team in the country. But they weren’t. It wasn’t even close. I’m not saying Ohio State is a terrible team, but there are many factors to consider when determining what a record actually means to a team. Strength of schedule is a big one. The Buckeyes haven’t played the toughest competition, and even if they have, it’s too early to know if these teams are any good or not.
What it does mean, though, is that the Big Ten’s pairwise is in a much better spot right now. The results early on aren’t indicative of how good a team is, but it definitely factors into whether or not the team has a chance at getting an at-large bid once the season ends. Ohio State has never been too bad, they’ve just never been a consistent team. And what’s hurt them in the past is an inability to start the season well, which is what they’re doing right now. So it definitely bodes well for them.
The Wolverines have continued their goaltending rotation – in which all three goaltenders have played – and it weirdly seems to be working. Zach Nagelvoort started the first game but hasn’t played since, so it’s unclear if he’ll get a chance back in the rotation. For now the freshmen Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine have played well enough to help the Wolverines to three wins and a tie. The missing piece for Michigan over the past few years has been its defense and goaltending, and it’s why everyone thought Michigan would be in so much trouble when all their scoring left in the offseason. We really won’t know if the freshmen are the solution until the Wolverines play some better competition, but a 9.54 and .946 save percentage for Lavigne and LaFontaine, respectively, isn’t bad.