Archive for the 'Big Ten' Category

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 12

Monday, December 12th, 2016

The teams finished the last weekend of play and the results weren’t very surprising. The Big Ten – and the teams in it – have been pretty inconsistent since the league’s second year. Michigan and Wisconsin split, while the Gophers swept the Spartans. The Gophers are currently first with nine points but also have played two more games than all teams except for Michigan. Penn State is second with six. Reember – each regulation/OT win counts for three points because of the added shootout wins.

The Badgers held on for a 7-4 win on Friday night but the Wolverines took down the Wisconsin 4-1 on Saturday. Hayden Lavigne played in both games and earned the win on Saturday but allowed six goals on Friday. Zach Nagelvoort also played on Friday.

Minnesota won both games 4-2, and the Spartans struck first in both contests. The Gophers scored four unanswered on Saturday to win the game while they netted three of the last four goals on Friday to take the win.

There have also been a few injuries in the Big Ten this year – notably Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and Matt Jurusik, both of whom missed some games. (Ferderic is back but Jurusik is not). But you can add another freshman phenom, Will Lockwood, to the list. Lockwood was hit from behind last weekend and suffered an injury. Per Wolverine 247’s Zach Shaw, sources said Lockwood has a dislocated shoulder and there is no timetable for his return.

(After the jump: What we know so far, Penn State’s second half and what teams need to work on for half No. 2)

What we know so far

Well, not much. Conference play has only just begun and the first half of the season never gives us much ti interpret. The two things about the conference we know for certain are that goaltending is still having a down year, scoring is still better than defense and the freshmen are making a big impact.

Penn State’s Denis Smirnov leads all rookies nationally with 27 points for 1.80 points per game. Tanner Laczynski is tied for second in the country amongst freshmen with 20 points. The Buckeye rookie has averaged 1.22 points per game and has tallied six goals. In the Big Ten, those are in the league top three for scoring. On the other side, redshirted Jerad Rosburg is having a great season for the Spartans defensively. And between Jack Berry, Hayden Lavigne, Jack LaFontaine and Peyton Jones, the freshmen are getting some good chances in net.

Big Ten defenses have been lagging since last year (a combination of bad defenses and really talented offenses) and that trend has continued. Lavigne has the best save percentage, and he’s a good goaltender, but most goaltenders are hovering close to .900 or below – including both of Ohio State’s netminders, Wisconsin’s netminders and Eric Schierhorn. And as far as offense goes, the Big Ten has four teams in the top 10 nationally – Penn State (first – 4.87 goals per game), Ohio State (second – 4.53 goals per game), Minnesota (T-6 – 3.62 goals per game) and Wisconsin (T-9 – 3.44 goals per game).

We’re in for another inconsistent year and, if Minnesota doesn’t strengthen, could see another season without a clear favorite for the Big Ten tournament. At this point the Gophers are probably still the favorite, but the Buckeyes are a close second.

Penn State’s Second Half

Penn State is in the midst of a long break. The Nittany Lions last played on Dec. 2 and won’t play for over a month with their next game slated for Jan. 6. While Penn State’s second-half schedule isn’t very difficult, it’s still tougher than the first half. And teams like Minnesota, Ohio State and even Wisconsin can pose threats on the offensive end.

This season playing in the Big Ten equals a relatively easy route through an automatic bid through the conference tournament. But Penn State would still need a first-day bye to have a chance at winning the tournament, so things get crucial once the calendar flips to 2017. These teams are still a little tougher than most teams Penn State played in the first half, and the Nittany Lions have a lot to prove. The key question here is if Guy Gadowsky’s game plan of “shoot as much as you can” will work against these teams. My guess is it won’t work so well against Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin, because matches against those programs turns into more of an offensive, back-and-forth, transition shootout.

What teams need to work on for half No. 2

The big thing is consistency. I don’t like saying consistency because it’s an odd concept to peg as a weakness – how do you fix consistency? So the key is if Minnesota can get stronger down the road and can Ohio State, which traditionally loses in the first half and wins in the second, keep its stretch of second-half success alive.

Another big issue is defense and goaltending. Michigan’s Hayden Lavigne is probably the league’s best goaltender but Michigan’s defense is not good. Maybe Lavigne can steal games for them in the second half, but a Will Lockwood-less offense might not be able to help enough on the other end. You can apply this to Michigan State, although their offense is improving and Ed Minney’s numbers in net do not look good.

With Penn State it’s near impossible to tell. To know a teams weakness you first have to know the tea, but it’s hard to know a team when they play an easy non-conference schedule. And the teams Penn State will face now are much different, and that might change Penn State’s game plan of possessing the puck and shooting around.

And lastly for Wisconsin… Unfortunately for the Badgers, turnovers and defensive mistakes will happen when young players are being creative offensively. That should shake away as the season progresses, but the Badgers aren’t particularly strong – nor have been in a while – on the defensive end anyway.

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Dec. 8

Friday, December 9th, 2016

It’s almost time for teams to start winding down for the holiday break and then the holiday tournaments. But before that we have a couple more series left, headlined this weekend by … well, there are only two series this weekend. Minnesota heads to Michigan State while Wisconsin will play Michigan at Yost. That first one could be interesting, but the second one should be more exciting.

Michigan (6-7-1) vs. Wisconsin (7-6-1): Dec. 9 at 7:35 p.m.; Dec. 10 at 7:35 p.m.

Last year this would’ve been either a blowout in favor of Michigan or a high-scoring, one-goal affair. But both these teams are very different than last season. Michigan’s strength is goaltending but their weakness is still defense, while the Badgers have the lethal skill that can hurt any team.

Grant Besse now has 17 points for the Badgers, over half of his total from last season. Luke Kunin is right behind him with 14. Goaltending is not Wisconsin’s strongest aspect this year, and an injury to Matt Jurusik has left Jack Berry at the helm. The Badgers are inconsistent, but the talent on the team is undeniable.

Michigan has a weak enough defense and Wisconsin has enough talent to exploit it.

Prediction: Badgers sweep

Michigan State (4-6-1) vs. Minnesota (7-5-2): Dec. 9 at 6:35 p.m.; Dec. 10 at 8 p.m.

Normally this would be Minnesota sweeps Michigan State, but the Spartans did just defeat North Dakota. And Minnesota is still pretty inconsistent.

Like the Badgers the Gophers have the talent but have been too inconsistent. That’s been a theme in recent years, although it’s a little stranger this year since they aren’t relying as much on freshman. Tyler Sheehy has 20 points while Eric Schierhorn has a .882 save percentage.

You know it’s a backward season when scoring is a stronger point for the Spartans than defense. But Mason Appleton is a good offensive player to have, and he’s averaging a point per game. More than that, the offense is just getting better looks and looking more cohesive than it has recently. The defense, not as much. Ed Minney has a .892 save percentage.

Who knows what will happen this series?

Prediction: Minnesota sweeps

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 5

Sunday, December 4th, 2016

The first weekend in Big Ten play taught us… nothing, really. Penn State beat Michigan, a team with spotty defense (and no Hayden Lavigne) 11-1 combined. Ohio State and Minnesota split, although the Buckeyes avenged a 5-3 loss with an 8-3 win. The Badgers had an interesting weekend against Omaha, tying 3-3 the first night and then falling 7-4.

So after two Big Ten series, what do we know about the Big Ten? Nothing new, really.

After the jump: No one in college hockey is good this year, strength of schedule matters for measuring success and the Big Ten inconsistency is killing me)


Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Dec. 1

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

This weekend features the first foray into Big Ten play, starting with Michigan and Penn State. The Gophers and Buckeyes will also face off, while the Badgers host Nebraska-Omaha in their last non-conference slate before their Big Ten play starts.

After a good weekend the Spartans have the week off the face the U-18 NTDP.

And since Big Ten play is going to start, here is my revised poll:

1. Ohio State
2. Wisconsin
3. Minnesota
4. Michigan
5. Penn State
6. Michigan State


Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 28

Monday, November 28th, 2016

The biggest storyline from the weekend was Michigan State taking three out of four points in a series against North Dakota. But we’ll talk more about that later. This was a big weekend for the Big Ten and the last one before conference play starts. The Gophers, Wolverines and Badgers all split their weekends.

Wisconsin earned a 2-1 win over Colorado College and followed with a wild 6-5 loss to Denver. The Pioneers had a 5-2 lead heading into the third, but the Badgers scored three goals in the last frame to come so close to tying it. Jack Berry started both games and Trent Frederic did not play.

Minnesota had a two-goal lead as the third period began but gave up four goals in the third period to lose the game. The Gophers have been a team to make comebacks late in the game, not lose them. It’s more proof that the Gophers are struggling with consistency and figuring out how to put everything together. The Gophers then beat BC. While the Eagles aren’t the strongest team, but Joe Woll is a good goaltender.

That win over BC was also Don Lucia’s 700th win. Per Minnesota, Boston College was also the team Lucia earned his first win over on Oct. 29, 1999.

The Wolverines split their series with Lake Superior State, and it was Zach Nagelvoort who was in net for Michigan’s 4-1 win. Jack LaFontaine took the other start but only allowed two goals.

(After the jump: Let’s talk about Michigan State, Jerad Rosberg and when will Minnesota be consistent)


Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Nov. 24

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

If you’re searching for some post-Thanksgiving hockey, look no further. Four Big Ten teams are playing this weekend – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State. It’s the last weekend before Big Ten play, so it’s the last chance for teams to get a tune up.

The toughest challenge of the week is definitely for the Spartans, who will face North Dakota. But the young Badgers also will have a tough weekend in a road trip out to Denver. Minnestoa’s trip to Boston may also be difficult though, as the Gophers are still struggling to find their identity.


Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 21

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Four Big Ten teams were in action over the weekend. Minnesota split with Minnesota State, rebounding for a 1-0 win after a 4-1 loss. The Badgers also split their series, a home contest against Merrimack. Wisconsin won on Friday and Jack Berry made 17 saves. In Saturday’s 2-0 loss, Berry and Matt Jurusik split the game.

Ohio State won both games at RPI. Friday’s contests was a 4-0 victory, but Saturday’s game was much closer. The teams were knotted 2-2 until freshman Tanner Laczynski scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period. Matt Tomkins started both games.

Penn State swept Arizona State, scoring 15 goals on the weekend. On Friday Penn State won 7-4 and on Saturday the Nittany Lions won 8-0. Chris Funkey got a chance to start, making 18 saves on Saturday. (Yes, Penn State took over 50 shots in each game).

Also a brief injury update – per the Wisconsin State Journal’s Todd Milewski, Trent Frederic was injured and miss the series against Merrimack.

(After the jump: Big Ten offenses, Michigan’s best goaltending, things each team should be thankful for)


Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Nov. 18

Friday, November 18th, 2016

This weekend features four Big Ten teams in play. For some, this is the last weekend of non-conference action before Big Ten play begins. Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin all have easier slates than Minnesota, which faces Minnesota State in a home-and-home series. Michigan is playing the NTDP while the Spartans have a bye week.


Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 14

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

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)


Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 7

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

What an interesting weekend in college hockey. After looking at all the scores, I’m not sure anything makes sense. But when does it ever? The Buckeyes finally were defeated, and by Robert Morris by 6-2. The next night they skated to a 4-4 tie, so the Buckeyes still have just one loss on the season. Matt Tomkins started on Friday and Logan Davis came on in relief, so Christian Frey is most likely still injured. Ohio State took 37 shots on net on net in both games and John Wiitala accounted for two goals on Saturday. The Buckeyes led by two goals in the last game but the Colonials tied it.

The renewal of the great Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry featured a couple of exciting, fast-paced college hockey games (until the third period of Saturday night’s game, but I digress). Friday’s game was a back-and-forth scoring affair. The Fighting Hawks took a 2-0 lead in the first, but the Gophers tied it. The second was scoreless and the team exchanged goals in the third with Tommy Novak tying it with 1:17 left. Minnesota won 2-0 on Saturday but the game was still close and the Gophers won because of Eric Scheirhorn’s impressive play in net. And of course the teams got into a scuffle when the game ended.

Michigan unsurprisingly defeated Arizona State. In the 4-1 win, Will Lockwood scored twice and Zach Nagelvoort made 31 saves. That was Nagelvoort’s second start of the soon and first since Michigan opened its season against Union. The fact that Red Berenson chose to start Nagelvoort, finally, against Arizona State says a lot about his role with the team so far.

The Spartans split their series with Michigan Tech. The first night Mason Appleton tied the game late in the third and scored the game winner in overtime. Both of Appleton’s goals were power play goals. Ed Minney made 22 saves in the start, but he didn’t look extremely solid. John Lethemon got the nod the next night but, from what I saw, didn’t look too stellar either. He made 23 saves in the 5-1 loss. The Spartans have now won two of their last three.

Penn State swept Niagara by 5-1 scores each night. The Nittany Lions took 56 shots on Thursday and followed with 51 on Friday. The Nittany Lions oddly do not lead the country in shots, but they’re second and have been peppering opponents. That isn’t surprising given their recent opponents and that taking a lot of shots is part of coach Guy Gadowsky’s strategy. On Thursday, Peyton Jones got a night of rest in favor of Chris Funkey. Andrew Sturtz added three goals on the weekend and now had eight.

The Badgers again split their series with Northern Michigan, following a 5-2 loss with a 2-0 win. In the loss, Matt Jurusik gave up four goals on 10 shots, which isn’t good. Jack Berry made six saves in relief. Berry made 22 saves in the shutout win the next night, which was also his first career start. The worst news of the weekend for the Badgers was that Grant Besse was hurt on Friday. He did not play Saturday, but per Wisconsin State Journal reporter Todd Milewski, head coach Tony Granato said Besse could’ve played Saturday and wanted to, but the coaches chose to sit him.

(After the jump: Rohlik deserved his extension, Minnesota is lethal, the good in Michigan State’s offense)

Rohlik deserved his extension

Steve Rohlik was given a contract extension at the beginning of the year and the Buckeyes finally started the season well. The Buckeyes have a loss now, and I’m not sure how they’ll finish, but I think giving Rohlik a contract was the right move. Record-wise the Buckeyes haven’t accomplished much and still haven’t made it back to the NCAA tournament but Rohlik has kept the team competitive over the past few years. He’s also kept their offense producing, even after Ohio State lost Max McCormick and Ryan Dzingel.

He’s also faced quite the challenges – most notably his first season when both his goaltenders were injured and he had a third-string goalie and a baseball catcher as his two options. He navigated the team through it, and the netminding mishap didn’t phase the team.

Whatever their record has been, his Buckeyes have always been a tough team to play against. That’s been especially true at the end of each season, when they’ve been one of the best teams in the Big Ten down the stretch. Unfortunately it’s been a few down years for the conference and that’s affected all of the teams, but Rohlik has done a great job with the Buckeyes all things considered.

Also it’s been three years, which has given Rohlik enough time to recruit his own players. And some of them are pretty good.

Minnesota is lethal

I have to take back some of what I said about the Gophers last weekend. I finally got to watch them closely this weekend (although it’s important to remember that Clarkson/St. Lawrence and North Dakota are very different teams, so it’s hard to compare what I saw this week to what happened last), and I was pretty impressed. Minnesota is definitely better than I thought it was, but North Dakota also probably isn’t as good as everyone thought they were. What impressed me the most with Minnesota, which I shouldn’t be surprised over, is how lethal they can be.

I believe that was something North Dakota mentioned in pre-game press conferences and something we noticed last weekend. There’s a ton of talent on that team on paper, and it translates well on ice. The Gophers can strike quickly and can create good scoring chances out of almost nothing. It makes Minnesota a fun team to watch, and I believe they can become a team capable of winning the Big Ten. 

Michigan State’s offense is also better

As strange as this is to type, it’s true. This may never show up on the scoresheet in shots, goals, points or wins, but it’s evident if you watch the Spartans play this year. The forward core is pretty young, with Michigan State relying on players like Mason Appleton. There are some Spartan veterans who can score, like Joe Cox and William Haag, but right now the underclassmen are leading. Appleton has three goals and eight points, freshman Taro Hirose has six points and sophomore Zach Osburn has five.

I’ve only been able to watch one game, and it was the overtime win over Michigan Tech, but the players were able to set up, pass easily to each other, find the right lanes and create some good chances that I can’t remember seeing from the Spartans recently.