The Big Ten regular season concluded over the weekend and it had major effects on Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State. Minnesota emerged the victor, and the Gophers have now claimed six-straight regular season titles – split between the WCHA and the Big Ten. The Buckeyes swept the Badgers, giving Ohio State the edge in the Pairwise. Michigan swept Penn State, keeping the Nittany Lions from a bye spot.
For three teams – Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State – their best chance of making the NCAA tournament is through a Big Ten championship. That isn’t to say Ohio State and Penn State can make the tournament without getting the title, but things are very shaky for them.
Ohio State and Michigan State will face off in the first set, and the winner will play Wisconsin. Penn State and Michigan will play in the other game, and whoever makes it out alive has to face Minnesota. The matches favor Ohio State more than the other teams, aside from maybe Minnesota, but there could possibly be a few “upsets.”
(After the jump: Who’s going to make NCAAs, Michigan is dangerous and tournament predictions)
Who’s Going To Make The NCAA Tournament
Ah, this is always fun. In the beginning of the year it looked like – okay maybe not beginning but at least midway through – that Penn State was a lock. The Buckeyes were high up there. Minnesota was in the mix. But now, it’s possible that neither Ohio State or Penn State make the NCAA tournament. The conference could have three teams make it, or they could have less than that.
Earlier I said that Penn State, Wisconsin and Minnesota would be the three teams to make the NCAA tournament, with Ohio State on the outside. But I think it will flip to Penn State, Ohio State and Minnesota. The Nittany Lions may be up in the air, but I think they need some strange scenarios to happen for them to be pushed out. Ohio State received a big boost from the sweep of Wisconsin and they seem to have the Badgers’ number this year, so I could see the Buckeyes advancing to the championship game.
Michigan Is Dangerous
Watch out for the Wolverines. I’m sure no team envies Penn State right now, since the Nittany Lions drew the worst matchup in facing Michigan – the team that just swept them – in the first round. The Wolverines haven’t been good for much of this season, but they’ve earned a few big wins – over Minnesota, Ohio State and Penn State – and have really gotten better at the end of the season.
And they have what no other Big Ten team has – solid goaltending. It may be in the form of an odd rotation, but all players have been putting up good numbers this year and goaltending is usually the difference in this tournament.
I have Minnesota over Ohio State for the championship.
Really though, anything can happen this year. While Ohio State is the only top seed that I see winning without upsets, keep in mind the Spartans have played them closely. But I’m still picking Ohio State over Michigan State and then Ohio State over Wisconsin. As I said earlier, the Buckeyes have the Badgers’ number. But it’s tough to put faith in Ohio State when they’ve consistently been one of the most inconsistent teams, so a first-round loss to Michigan State wouldn’t surprise me.
I also have Michigan beating Penn State. While it’s tough to beat a team three straight games in a row, the Wolverines are good right now. And that’s in part thanks to their goaltending, which gave Penn State fits last year. Penn State doesn’t have the same level of goaltending that Michigan does, or defense, so the Wolverines get the edge. And while Michigan beat Minnesota recently, I view that as more of a fluke than a trend.
The last weekend in Big Ten regular season play is here. Much in the conference will be decided this weekend – including who wins the regular season championship and who earns the bye spots. Only two teams – Minnesota and Wisconsin – can earn first place. The Gophers are a lock for a bye day, but Penn State has a chance at getting the No. 2 seed, which would give them the second bye day.
Here are the current standings:
1. Minnesota (39)
2. Wisconsin (36)
3. Penn State (31)
4. Ohio State (29)
5. Michigan (16)
6. Michigan State (11)
So here’s the deal. The Badgers and Gophers tied the regular-season series, which means Minnesota must win at least one game to either win the Big Ten or earn a share of the title. The Badgers can clinch a piece of the title with at least a win and either a Gophers loss or shootout win. There are several scenarios where the Badgers can claim the title or a share of the title, but basically they’re good if they win both games, or if they win and Minnesota splits, or if they win one game and Minnesota loses both. (This gets a little more complicated because there are three points up for grabs in each game, so it’s not just wins and losses but also potential shootout wins).
Now for the No. 2 seed. The Nittany Lions are just five points behind the Badgers. Penn State has the season series tiebreaker, but they’ll still need some help. They need to at least win one game and take the other one into the shootout and have the Badgers lose both games. That’s a plausible scenario because the Badgers have a tougher test in Ohio State while Penn State should beat Michigan. But, Penn State is playing at Michigan and the Wolverines are just coming off a big win over Minnesota (that could cost the Gophers a piece of the Big Ten title).
So the last weekend in Big Ten play will be full of drama. And that’s not even including the Pairwise (the Badgers are in the bubble and the Buckeyes are on the outside. But the difference between the two teams isn’t much.)
Earlier this week, the New Jersey Devils recalled two of Hockey East’s most underrated players from two of the league’s most memorable teams in recent memory.
Kevin Rooney was called up for his first NHL action over the weekend after signing an NHL contract last week. Rooney had been playing with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany. Rooney was never a big scorer for the Friars — he scored just 36 points in his career — but he was arguably the heart and soul of the Providence team that won a national championship in 2015. It’s no mistake that Rooney was voted team captain the following season as a senior.
The Canton, Mass. native skated on Providence’s top line with Mark Jankowski and Brandon Tanev through the 2015 NCAA Tournament, but he wasn’t there to score goals, he was there to shut down the best player on the other team. As the No. 4 seed in the East Regional that season, the Friars were the road team throughout the tournament, and weren’t given the benefit of a last change. So, when Boston University rolled Jack Eichel’s line, for instance, out against Jankowski’s, it was Rooney who was often tasked with one of the most difficult assignments — shut down that top line.
After that championship run, several Hockey East coaches that summer praised the work of Rooney throughout the tournament, and coaches were well aware of having to game plan against his matchup the following season.
The Devils also recalled former Merrimack defenseman Karl Stollery, who was a junior on the Merrimack team that won 25 games in 2011 and a senior on the Merrimack team that was the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
Stollery was often lost in the shuffle, as far as praise goes, behind players like Stephane Da Costa and Joe Cannata. But, Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy would say oftentimes during those two seasons that Stollery was the team’s workhorse, logging 30 minutes per night at least. Dennehy has even admitted, in the years following Stollery’s time, that there were nights he even pushed close to 40 minutes.
Over Stollery’s final two seasons, Merrimack posted a record of 43-22-11.
On Wednesday, Stollery and Rooney were both sent back to Albany, but given their work ethic, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both called up for more action in New Jersey.
There is now just one weekend left in the Big Ten regular season. Minnesota is first in the conference but has just a three-point lead over the Badgers. That will make for a fun conclusion to the regular season since there are a few things on the line: That regular-season title, a shot at a bye day and a possible NCAA tournament at-large spot for the bubble teams.
Last weekend’s split with Penn State helped the Badgers in that regard. They’re 13th, so still on the bubble. Losing to Michigan State did not really help Ohio State’s cause, as now the Buckeyes are back on the wrong side of the cutoff line. The Gophers split their series with Michigan and while that looks bad, it didn’t have much of an impact for the Gophers. Except for in the standings, where that loss allowed Wisconsin to creep a little closer to the first spot.
Here are the standings:
3. Penn State
4. Ohio State
6. Michigan State
(After the jump: What to watch, why does no one talk about the really good forwards and is Michigan good)
What To Watch
The biggest games of the upcoming weekend will be the ones for Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. So pay close attention to the Buckeyes-Badgers series because that has a lot of meaning in the Pairwise for big teams. Ohio State is now outside the Pairwise bubble while the Badgers are close to the edge. The Badgers are also just three points away from the No. 1 conference spot and five points away from dropping out of the second spot.
Which brings us to Penn State. The Nittany Lions should have an easy time defeating Michigan (should, but the Wolverines just beat the Gophers). For Penn State, a possible Big Ten tournament title is on the line, since they’d need a bye day if they want to win.
Penn State is just five points behind the Badgers, which means they’d need at least a regulation/OT win and a shootout win and the Badgers to lose both games. But if the Badgers win one of their contests against Ohio State, the bye day will be out of reach.
And as I mentioned before, the Badgers have a lot riding on their series – a potential regular season championship, a bye day for the tournament and an at-large bid.
As for the Buckeyes… this is their last hope.
Why Does No One Talk About The Really Good Forwards
Over the weekend, Minnesota’s Tyler Sheehy passed the 50-point mark. Actually he did it last Saturday after scoring two goals and an assist. But no one is talking about it. And no one is really talking about his linemate, Justin Kloos, who has 41 points. And then there’s Ohio State’s Nick Schilkey and Mason Jobst. All of those players are in the top-20 nationally in scoring, yet they’re rarely talked about.
I can’t really answer that, aside from maybe it’s East Coast bias for Sheehy and Kloos. As far as Schilkey and Jobst are concerned, I think that’s just a side effect of paying for Ohio State, a hockey program that will always kind of be in the shadows. Either way, it’s odd that these players aren’t getting much attention since they’re have great seasons.
Is Michigan Good?
Of course not. Michigan has an offense that’s struggling and minimal defense, but oddly have good goalkeeping, finally. Although having a three netminder rotation seems odd, that’s niether nere nor there. But the Wolverines have gotten a few spoiler wins against some of the Big Ten’s better teams.
Michigan’s win over Ohio State could be a reason their rival Buckeyes don’t make the NCAA tournament. Michigan’s win over Minnesota could be a reason why the Gophers don’t win the Big Ten regular season title.
They were big wins, but are they indicative of an upward trend for the Wolverines or just a couple of odd wins? I think they were just a couple of out-of-the-ordinary wins, but the Wolverines won’t struggle like this for long.
There are just two weeks left in the Big Ten regular season. A couple of Pairwise spots are still up for grabs, along with the first two conference spots. Ohio State is playing Michigan State and Minnesota is playing Michigan, and that should result in sweeps for the Buckeyes and Gophers. The Penn State-Wisconsin series is the only question mark, but two wins would be huge for a Wisconsin team close to making the tournament.
The final regular season weekend in the NCHC begins tomorrow night, with all eight teams in action:
|Minnesota-Duluth||at||Western Michigan||7:05 ET|
|North Dakota||at||Miami||7:35 ET|
|Colorado College||at||St. Cloud State||7:37 CT|
… and there’s plenty on the line. A quick look at the most notable items:
Regular season title: The Penrose Cup
Denver looks for its first regular season title since its WCHA title in 2009-10 this weekend, and the Pioneers can clinch their first Penrose Cup as NCHC regular season champs with a win at Nebraska-Omaha tomorrow (or with a Minnesota-Duluth loss at Western Michigan). The Bulldogs are the only other team in play for the regular season title (and therefore the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tournament) but trail Denver by four points heading into the weekend.
We won’t get into all the tiebreaker scenarios (you can work through them using the rules here), but here’s a look at things from the UMD perspective. Basically, UMD needs either 5 or 6 points this weekend to have any chance at all (reminder: NCHC regular season games go to a 3×3 OT and then if necessary a shootout if the game is still tied after regulation and a 5 minute 5×5 OT; 3 points in the NCHC are given for a regulation or 5×5 OT win, 2 points are given for a win in the 3×3 OT or shootout, and 1 point is given for a loss in the 3×3 OT or a loss in the shootout).
So if UMD earns 5 points in the standings, Denver must lose each game in regulation or within the 5×5 OT.
If UMD earns 6 points in the standings, it only wins the regular season title if Denver earns less than 3 points this weekend. The most interesting scenario would be as follows:
– UMD earns a 6 point sweep, while Denver earns only 2 points (say, a shootout win combined with a regulation loss). In that scenario, each team finishes with 55 points. The first tiebreaker in this scenario — head-to-head record — does not apply here because it only applies when the teams have played a balanced home-and-away schedule (in this case, Denver only placed UMD at home, and they split the weekend series). The second tiebreaker is regular season NCHC regulation + OT wins, and the teams would be tied here (16 apiece).
The next tiebreaker comes back to head-to-head, which again was 1-1, so we go to the fourth tiebreaker: comparison of goals scored. In the weekend series, UMD outscored Denver 6-5, so the Bulldogs would win the Penrose and be the No. 1 seed in the NCHC tourney as a result. The 6th goal for UMD that weekend was an empty-netter at the end of the Saturday night game.
Fun to talk about these things, but the reality is that Denver — the No. 1 team in the Pairwise — is clearly in the driver’s seat heading into the final NCHC regular season.
Denver and UMD will be the top two seeds in the NCHC tournament, and Western Michigan is locked in to No. 3. North Dakota, Nebraska-Omaha, and St. Cloud State, meanwhile, are all in the hunt for the No. 4 seed — and therefore the final home-ice spot for the NCHC quarterfinals next weekend. The three teams are currently separated by a single point, and it’s certainly possible that the tiebreakers above will come into play.
On paper, St. Cloud State may have the “easiest” schedule with a home series vs Colorado College, but the Huskies have also lost three of their last five.
North Dakota heads to Miami. The Fighting Hawks and Red Hawks split a weekend series in Grand Forks, N.D, earlier this season.
Points and Goals
A look at the players in the hunt heading into the final weekend, courtesy of collegehockeystats.net
|Alex Iafallo||Minnesota Duluth||SR||W||22||1.23||10-17-27|
|5||Mikey Eyssimont||St. Cloud State||SO||F||22||1.00||11-11-22|
Ortega and Iafallo have both been on fire lately, but Iafallo may have the edge this weekend, only because — despite Ortega’s 7 points in his last 3 games — UNO has to face the top goaltender in the conference, the stingy Tanner Jaillet.
And not even on this list is Shane Gersich, who’s got the pole position for the goal-scoring title. The UND sophomore has 14 goals this season, two more than second-place Matheson Iacopelli (WMU).
Finally, among defensemen and rookies, respectively:
|3||Neal Pionk||Minnesota Duluth||SO||D||22||0.82||4-14-18|
|1||Joey Anderson||Minnesota Duluth||F||21||0.76||7- 9-16|
|2||Henrik Borgström||Denver||F||18||0.83||8- 7-15|
|3||Tyson Jost||North Dakota||F||16||0.88||6- 8-14|
With another weekend completed there are just a few contests separating these teams from the Big Ten tournament. Unlike over the past couple of years, the Big Ten tournament won’t be the only path to the NCAA tournament. Minnesota and Penn State are pretty much a lock for the NCAA tournament, while Wisconsin is 13th and Ohio State is listed as 15th but would technically be 14th if the season ended today, because St. Cloud State – the 14th team – is under .500. Anyway, that means there’s a lot of fun Pairwise stuff to watch as the season winds down.
Nothing exciting happened again last week, except that Michigan won a 1-0 game against Ohio State. Although it’s strange it was only 1-0 – when’s the last team those two teams combined for just one goal? But it looks like the lost hasn’t actually ruined Ohio State’s at-large bid chances yet. Penn State swept Michigan State and Minnesota and Wisconsin split. So basically we saw more of the same.
(After the jump: Who’ll win,, Mason Jobst and Minnesota’s coming together)
The Gophers close out their season with a couple of easy matches against Michigan and Michigan State, so I stand by my preseason prediction that the Gophers will at least win the regular season and lock up the No. 1 spot. Their main competition right now is Wisconsin, but the Badgers have to face both Penn State and Ohio State. While That’s a much tougher slate than what Minnesota has left, and last time the Badgers couldn’t beat the Nittany Lions.
Now, there’s more than just a regular-season championship at stake. The top of the Big Ten standings are pretty tight, with just 10 points separating Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State. With three points on the line for each game, that leaves 12 points available now until the end of the season. The bye day means the most for Wisconsin and Ohio State, since their only path may be through the automatic bid.
Mason Jobst gets little fanfare, but the sophomore forward is really good, and he has 42 points this year. That ranks 12th in the country and second in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes in general have an underrated offense and Jobst is the leader of that. He’s a small player but extremely impactful.
Minnesota’s Coming Together
The Gophers always start the season struggling, but that has a lot to do with their tough non-conference competition. This year it seems like Minnesota has started to put it together as the season continued, and the Gophers are almost a lock for the Big Ten regular-season title. They’re also the most likely team who can win two games in a row.
This wouldn’t be the first time Minnesota has won a Big Ten tournament and not been a great team (see 2015) but things seem different for the Gophers this year. Their goaltending might not be strong, but don’t pass on their offense – Tyler Sheehy’s 48 points rank eighth in the country.
This is the last weekend of play for most conferences, but the Big Ten has a couple more weeks left in its regular season. The border battle resumes, Penn State plays Michigan State and the Buckeye-Wolverine rivalry will resume.
The series to keep an eye on is really Ohio State-Michigan. The Buckeyes are currently “in” the NCAA tournament, and should easily beat Michigan. But the teams split last time and the loss was enough to knock Ohio State out temporarily. If the Buckeyes lose again, that might doom their NCAA chances permanently.
Right now the Gophers are almost a lock for the NCAA tournament. Penn State has a high chance of making it, but the outlook isn’t as great for the Badgers and Buckeyes.
The Minnesota-Wisconsin series will be interesting in the Big Ten standings, since only three points separate the two teams. And Penn State and Ohio State aren’t far behind, so either one of those teams could sneak into a top-two spot depedning on the outcome of the Badgers-Gopher series.
It is always hard to believe when the last week of the regular season arrives. Only three teams have a shot at the Cleary Cup and subsequently the top seed in the ECAC tournament. Union sits in the catbird seat at the top, but are just one point clear of Harvard hot on their heels. Cornell also has a way to the title, at only three points back. The Big Red and the Dutchmen play in a game that could decide the regular season title on Saturday night in Ithaca.
Union, Harvard and Cornell are the only three teams to clinch a first round bye and home-ice in the quarterfinals. St. Lawrence needs just a point to clinch the other spot in the top four. It faces Dartmouth on Friday and Harvard on Saturday. I was really hoping for a game to decide the title, but it seems as though we won’t get it directly.
The national picture is looking very good for the top three teams as well. Harvard is comfortably third in the pairwise and one of the top seeds, if the NCAA tournament started today. Union is seventh in said rankings and Cornell is tenth. A Big Red win on Saturday would be a huge boost. Union has a tad more leeway with a loss. All other league teams would need to win the Whitelaw cup to gain entrance into the NCAA’s.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts for the week… Read the rest of this entry »