The weekend featured a couple of interesting wins from Big Ten teams, including a 4-3 victory by the Spartans over Ferris State. Penn State swept Alaska-Anchorage (shocking, I know) and holds the longest unbeaten streak in the country along with Boston College. But, the Nittany Lions aren’t that good (more on that later) and this is another great reminder that a) polls mean literally nothing and b) it is way too early to look at the Pairwise.
The win was Michigan State’s first “real” victory (I say “real” because beating a team that has not played a regular season game yet when you’ve already played four seems a little skewed). The Spartans lost 4-1 on Thursday, with Ed Minney in net. He was in net during the win, though, and made 20 saves. In not surprising news, Mason Appleton is Michigan State’s leading scorer.
The Wolverines split their home series with Boston University, but the Terriers were without Clayton Keller. It was more impressive that Michigan shut BU out 4-0 on the first night, but the Terriers rebounded with a 4-2 win. Again it was Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine who split netminding duties, and the freshmen seem to be doing well so far.
Ohio Sate defeated UConn 7-4 and then tied the Huskies 3-3. The Buckeyes are now 1-2-1 in their last four games but are still undefeated in their last three. Christian Frey is healthy and started both games over the weekend. Frey’s consecutive starts are probably less a sign he’ll take the starting role and more a sign that Steve Rohlik is trying to make up some of the playing time that he missed.
(After the jump: Penn State is not good, Ed Minney musings and a possible end to the North Star College Cup)
Penn State is not good
The Nittnay Lions have won seven games in a row and have not lost in their last nine. While that sounds impressive, I’ll repeat Penn State’s schedule: Notre Dame, Canisius, Niagara and Alaska Anchorage. Out of all the teams Penn State has played this year, only Notre Dame and St. Lawrence can be considered quality opponents. And St. Lawrence barely counts because it was opening weekend of the season – when teams notoriously don’t play to their caliber. I’ve long harped about how Penn State needs to play a tougher schedule, not only because it hurts their pairwise (and it will, in the end) but because playing easy opponents makes it harder for Penn State to grow.
No one’s challenging or pushing the Nittany Lions since the Notre Dame series. And I’ll agree, that was an impressive one for the Nittany Lions. But that test, all that hard work, gets lost over the next five series. Penn Sate is playing no one of quality to test them as they get into conference play. And while I don’t believe teams like Michigan – their first conference opponent this year – will truly test them, there’s no way Penn State is prepared to face Minnesota or Wisconsin. Because for whatever those two teams are right now, they have the ability to be so lethal.
On that note, let’s talk about Penn State’s offense. The Nittany Lions rank second with 4.27 goals per game (Big Ten rival Ohio State is first with 4.55). But that’s not surprising considering Penn State shoots the puck a lot. Of course they’re going to score. They’ve thrown up 513 shots, most in the country. And it’s not even close. Penn State averages 46.64 shots per game, almost 10 shots more than the runner-up (Union). But Penn State’s shooting percentage is .092. That’s 42nd in the country. It’s not surprising because that’s what head coach Guy Gadowksy wants them to do. He wants them to take shots. Which is fine, but Penn State isn’t covnerting very many of those shots, and it’s only going to get harder for them when they face better competition.
Ed Minney musings
It’s really odd seeing Ed Minney not playing every game for the Spartans. The year Minney was a freshman, he was everyone’s pick for the All-Rookie team goaltender, because he was the only rookie goaltender. We knew back then he wouldn’t see playing time because Jake Hildebrand was the team’s starter, but we all envisioned a day when he took over the Spartan net. But it’s not panning out that way. Minney has struggled, as has the entire Spartans team, and he hasn’t even started every game.
The junior holds a .897 save percentage and has started in six games. While Jake Hildebrand did not have his best season last year, his numbers were still better at a .904 save percentage. And he had especially high in-game save percentages against Denver early in the season. For three games this season, Minney posted in-game save percentages of .913 or higher. But it’s dipped back to below .900 since then, which isn’t something Michigan State can afford.
I’m not saying this is Minney’s fault – I haven’t watched Michigan State closely enough to tell and I know numbers don’t tell the whole story. But it’s strange to see Minney, who everyone waited so long to see play, struggle.
Possible end to the North Star College Cup
Tickets are going on sale for the North Star College Cup, the tournament designed to keep some Minnesota in-state rivalries alive. The format featured rotating teams, as there are five Minnesota teams and of course only four spots. It was supposed to be like the Beanpot of the college hockey west, but never really became that.
Matt Wellens, who covers Minnesota Duluth, said he’d heard from some people that this might be the last one. And as he pointed out, the Gophers and Bulldogs will play through 2022-23.