Three Things I Think: Big Ten First Half Round-up

Posted by: Nate Wells

We’re back. Well kind of.

With four Big Ten players (Michigan’s Andrew Copp, Minnesota’s Brady Skjei and Hudson Fasching, and Wisconsin’s Nic Kerdiles) and one head coach (Minnesota’s Don Lucia) in Sweden representing the red, white and blue, every team besides the Gophers began the second half this past weekend.

A few teams might be wishing for a do-over. Despite being the most experienced teams for the elements, Michigan and Michigan State combined for a single win outdoors at the GLI. That win was due to the Spartans shutting out Michigan in a game that is considered non-conference.

“We didn’t show anything this weekend,” Wolverines head coach Red Berenson, whose team also lost to Western Michigan in OT, said to the Michigan Daily after Saturday’s loss to MSU.

In other Big Ten play, Penn State defeated Robert Morris 3-2 before falling to Boston College by an 8-2 final. Wisconsin continued a monster 12 game homestand at the Kohl Center with a pair of wins against Alabama-Huntsville while Ohio State dominated Mercyhurst in a two-game sweep.

January is set up to a great month for Big Ten hockey. Before it happens, however, this seems like a good time to shake off the cobwebs and look back. This week’s 3 Things include being worried about Penn State, newcomer Christian Frey along with my first-half All-Big Ten team picks.

Penn State sees both ends of offensive output this weekend

Sophomore Eric Scheid leads the Nittany Lions offensively at the midway point with 13 points (8G-5A) in 15 games. He added to his total Friday night by scoring the game-winning goal against Robert Morris with 1:40 remaining, completing a 3-2 comeback that began earlier in the period with a Tommy Olczyk power play goal. It was a game that saw Penn State put up 62 shots on goal against the Colonials.

However, that hasn’t been the norm. PSU’s offense has been closer to the other team Scheid played with in college. In 2011-12, Scheid put up 15 points (2 off the team lead) for an Alaska-Anchorage team that finished in the bottom third of total offense in college hockey.

This season the Nittany Lions are currently tied for 41st with an average of 2.47 goals per game. Only Scheid has reached double digits. Last year’s top scorer Casey Bailey has gone from averaging a point per game to having 3 points and junior forward Max Gardiner (3G-19A in 12-13) is still looking for his first goal.

That would be okay if the defense matched up, but at the moment Penn State is in a stretch where the team faces 3 of the top 8 offenses in the country. After giving up 8 goals against Boston College, which also visits Pegula on January 25, PSU next faces the second-best offense in Minnesota. I’m a little worried about the Nittany Lions.

Ohio State goaltending is succeeding regardless of who is in net

Christian Frey had all of three practices with Ohio State before being unleashed in net against Mercyhurst this weekend. The Buckeyes newcomer made the most of it, making a combined 56 saves at home on the Lakers.

Frey, who spent the first half of the season playing with Dubuque (USHL), is needed because starter Matt Tomkins remains out with a lower body injury suffered in early November against Niagara. Sophomore Collin Olson, meanwhile, transferred midway through the first semester. Third string goalie Logan Davis has played in five games this season and has a .909 save percentage.

Goaltending doesn’t tell the whole story – as the next piece below shows, it’s hard to not discuss junior forward Ryan Dzingel with the Buckeyes – and Ohio State has more to show in conference play than any other Big Ten team. Still, the fact that a team entering the season wondering who would replace Brady Hjelle is getting (after an early bump) good goalie play from now four different players should be a testament to first-year head coach Steve Rohlik.

All-Big Ten First Half Teams

There remains something strange about grading individuals based upon almost exclusively non-conference play. It’s hard to take much from one weekend. In the Big Ten that has basically been the case with teams facing one another and the second half being exclusive conference play. Although maybe in a year or two this won’t feel awkward, it has not yet become the norm.

But I’m still going to do it anyways so without further adieu; here is my All-Big Ten midseason first, second and rookie teams.

All-Big Ten First Team

F- Ryan Dzingel, Ohio State
F- Michael Mersch, Wisconsin
F- Sam Warning, Minnesota
D- Mike Reilly, Minnesota
D- Jake McCabe, Wisconsin
G- Zach Nagelvoort, Michigan

Explanation: Dzingel leads the Big Ten in points with 23. Mersch leads the conference with 11 goals. Warning has 20 points, good for second in the conference, and leads a balanced and dangerous Gopher attack. 8 Minnesota players are in double digits points-wise. As a sophomore, Reilly easily leads Big Ten defensemen in goals with 7 (1 off Minnesota’s lead held by Seth Ambroz) while McCabe leads all blue liners in points with 12. Nagelvoort has been the best surprise of the first half and the Michigan freshman is in the top-5 for both goals against average and save percentage.

All-Big Ten Second Team

F- Nic Kerdiles, Wisconsin
F- Andrew Copp, Michigan
F- Max McCormick, Ohio State
D- Mac Bennett, Michigan
D- Brady Skjei, Minnesota
G- Jake Hildebrand, Michigan State

Explanation: Kerdiles has been scoring in bunches with both a six-game streak to start the season and a five-game point streak that greets him on the other side of the World Juniors. Copp is another sophomore on the U.S. WJC team that has stepped up after his freshman season. He leads the Wolverines with 9 goals. McCormick is second on Ohio State with 18 points (7G-11A).

Balancing defensemen on these lists is always tough because you don’t want to put too much pressure on offensive scoring or overlook defensive metrics. While a Jake Chelios (11 points for the Spartans) or Luke Juha (9 points for Penn State) is more than worthy, Bennett and Skjei have each been solid defensively for their respective teams and occasionally chip on the other end of the ice (both have 5 points). The toughest choice was goaltender. Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel has better numbers in limited appearances and Minnesota’s Adam Wilcox is a big reason for why the Gophers are the top-ranked team in the country. However, neither is as important to their team as Jake Hildebrand has been to the Spartans. Hildebrand has a .925 save percentage while making less than 29 saves only once in his last 5 games.

All-Big Ten Rookie Team

F- Hudson Fasching, Minnesota
F- Justin Kloos, Minnesota
F- J.T. Compher, Michigan
D- Michael Brodzinski, Minnesota
D- Drew Brevig, Ohio State
G- Nagelvoort

Explanation: Honestly, Minnesota could almost have a team by itself. That’s how important the Gopher freshmen adjusting to college hockey have been for a team that has had 3 players with eligibility play in the NHL this season. Kloos is second on Minnesota with 17 points while Fasching has 14, including an 8 game scoring streak, and Brodzinski leads all freshmen defensemen with 4 goals and 8 points. Compher, meanwhile, leads Michigan in points with 15, the conference in shorthanded goals (2) and would have been on this year’s WJC team if not for an injury blocking a shot in practice. Brevig has 7 points playing with the Buckeyes and Nagelvoort was already explained.

Agree? Disagree? Hash it out in the comments. You can also follow me on Twitter @gopherstate.

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