Holy smokes! I was so caught up in re-entry into the non-college hockey world — i.e., my day job — that I completely forgot about this morning’s blog. Here are three things from the Big Ten tournament that stay with me today.
1. The Wolverines showed why they should be B1G champs.
With three third-period goals, Michigan defeated Minnesota 5-3 and became the third different Big Ten playoff championship team in the league’s first three seasons. Four players, especially, showed why they are top-notch players for the Wolverines with championship totals for the two games: junior forwards JT Compher (1-7–8) and Tyler Motte (2-2–4), sophomore defenseman Zach Werenski (1-5–6) and freshman forward Kyle Connor (5-3–8).
The Wolverines played to their strengths, outgunning Penn State in the 7-2 semifinal win — with Steve Racine making 40 saves in the contest — and relying on their belief in their third period to catch and overcome the Golden Gophers in Saturday’s title match. For the season, Michigan has outscored opponents 74-24 in the third period.
2. Kyle Connor is making a strong case for the Hobey Baker Award.
I’ll be completely honest: I have been in the Tyler Motte camp for the Hobey all season. I’d still argue that Motte is a better all-around player — at this point — than is Connor, but Connor’s offensive output in very big games last weekend is impressive. Connor (34-35–6) has improved significantly as the season has progressed and is showing signs of being the kind of on-the-spot player that is needed when there’s a lot on the line. People seem to forget that Motte (31-23–54) has been steadier all season and has only three fewer goals than his linemate, but it’s hard to argue with Connor’s numbers and — especially — his timing. We shall see how he and the Wolverines perform in the NCAA tournament.
3. The Big Ten has one representative in the NCAA tournament — again.
Given how the season went, I’m okay with that. Only Michigan was effective enough in early nonconference play to ensure that it wasn’t in PairWise danger heading into St. Paul last weekend. Minnesota is young and promising, but that youth led to inconsistency. Penn State can score but likewise stumbled a bit down the stretch. Ohio State began to peak too late. No one, from start to finish, had a more solid season than did the Wolverines — and even they needed to solidify defensively at the end of the campaign. We’ll see how they do next weekend in Cincinnati. I’m hoping they can win more than one game.