What a weekend in the Big Ten. We learned just how evenly matched this league can be — or at least microcosms within this league can be — and we learned that no one is safe. Frankly, it’s the kind of weekend that makes me giddy about the potential for the Big Ten championship tournament.
1. The Badgers.
There’s nothing like a sweep to break a three-game winless streak, and when it’s a sweep of a long-time rival and the top team in the country as well as a sweep that garners your team six points in conference standings, you’re probably going to be a little bit happy about it.
“When you sweep the No. 1 team in the nation, it puts a statement out there,” said sophomore forward Kerdiles, who had the game-winning goal in Friday’s 2-1 contest as Wisconsin swept Minnesota in a pair of 2-1 games Thursday and Friday. The weekend was the first back for Kerdiles, who’d been out since injuring his shoulder Jan. 4.
Entering the weekend, Wisconsin was 10 points behind first-place Minnesota; now the Badgers are just four points behind the Gophers.
2. The Nittany Lions.
Entering their home weekend against Michigan, the Nittany Lions had a single Big Ten win to their credit, with a 0-7-0 conference record. After losing to the Wolverines 7-3 Friday, Penn State picked up its first league win by blanking Michigan, 4-0, the following night. Freshman forward Zach Saar will go down in PSU history as the first Nittany Lion to score a game-winning goal against a Big Ten opponent in league play, with assists from Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin at 5:31 in the first period. Sophomore Matthew Skoff made 32 saves in his first shutout of the season, the third of his career.
Said Skoff, “That’s something I will remember for a long time.”
Penn State went on to score two more first-period goals and one in the third. Michigan freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort was replaced by sophomore Steve Racine after allowing the third goal of the contest.
Six points now separate first-place Minnesota from third-place Michigan.
3. The Buckeyes.
Ohio State extended its unbeaten streak to five with two 2-2 ties and shootout points in each game on the road against Michigan State. In four of those five (3-0-2) contests, the Buckeyes have had to come from behind.
“Any time you can walk away and be down against good teams like this and come back and get two out of three points,” said coach Steve Rohlik, “I think it’s a huge positive and those are things you’ve got to build on, but I want this team to learn how to play with a lead instead of being behind all the time. We seem to play better hockey when we’re behind, but I’d sure like to see us with a lead once in a while.”
It sounds like an obvious statement, but the Buckeyes and Spartans seemed evenly matched on many levels … except for one. In spite of the score, OSU does have an offensive advantage, which made the ties even more impressive for Michigan State. MSU sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand made 88 saves in the two games, but I was especially impressed with OSU newcomer Christian Frey, who joined the Buckeyes at midseason and has taken the starting job. The save he made on sophomore Michael Ferrantino with 1:30 or so left in the overtime Saturday night was stunning, point-blank on Ferrantino’s shot from the crease directly after the faceoff.