After last weekend’s regular-season photo finish, this weekend’s tournament should prove to be just as exciting. I love both first-round matches and the idea that anyone can win this year’s autobid.
First, how Drew Claussen and I finished the regular season in picks.
Drew Claussen: 3-2-1 (.500)
Paula Weston: 3-2-1 (.500)
Drew: 77-66-11 (.536)
Paula: 71-71-12 (.500)
Woo! Finally, at the end of the regular season, I hit .500. I can claim — for this brief, shining moment — that I’m at least as reliable as a coin toss.
Big Ten Tournament
Paula: Minnesota is this year’s regular-season champion and Michigan State finished in second place, so the Golden Gophers and Spartans each earn a first-round bye and will play the winners of Thursday’s quarterfinal games. Ohio State and Penn State face off in the early Thursday contest; it’s Wisconsin vs. Michigan in the later game.
All games are played in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. Thursday’s and Friday’s contests begin at 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday’s championship game begins at 8:00 p.m. All games are televised by the Big Ten Network. Jeremy Potter and I will be covering the tournament this year along with photographer Larry Radloff.
Drew: Outside of the Wisconsin-Michigan game, I feel one could actually pick this tournament with coin flips. It wouldn’t shock me if one or both of the top two seeds struggle with the team it draws on Friday. Unlike last year in St. Paul, where Minnesota and Wisconsin knew that they’d be in the NCAA Tournament regardless of their tournament results, everybody is playing for their NCAA playoff lives in Detroit. That’s going to lead to some entertaining hockey in Detroit.
Paula: I completely agree. Even though Wisconsin has struggled itself mightily this season, there’s no telling what will happen in single-elimination play — and every team ahead of Wisconsin has shown itself to be vulnerable this season.
The Wolverines, Gophers and Nittany Lions bring three of the nations’s top offenses into the weekend, but each has proven that it can display defensive lapses. In spite of having Jake Hildebrand in net and the No. 12 defense in the nation — and the top blue line in the Big Ten — the Spartans last Friday showed that they also can get caught and they need to generate offense. The Buckeyes were injured for much of the season and so are challenged by consistency all around, and the young Badgers are just beginning to learn how to play well as a team.
Interesting things to ponder as we head into the weekend include how each team has fared in its last 10 contests, all Big Ten play:
- Minnesota (7-3-0)
- Michigan State (7-3-0)
- Michigan (4-6-0)
- Penn State (3-7-0)
- Ohio State (6-3-1)
- Wisconsin (2-7-1)
Then there’s head-to-head play in the quarterfinal round. This season, Ohio State is 3-1-0 against Penn State, and Michigan is 4-0-0 against Wisconsin.
Drew: The first game of the tournament should be a good one and I believe that both Ohio State and Penn State can give Minnesota a run for its money on Friday. It looks like we’ll get a sixth meeting between Michigan State and Michigan in the night cap on Friday, which is always an entertaining match-up. This season in the Big Ten was supposed to be all about the goaltenders, and even though the regular season didn’t pan out that way, I think the team with the hottest goaltender will win this tournament. Jake Hildebrand, Adam Wilcox, Christian Frey or — dare I say it? — Joel Rumpel are skilled enough netminders to get on a hot streak and carry their respective teams to three wins this weekend.
Paula: Again, I couldn’t agree more. I’m still banking on Jake Hildebrand.
Drew’s picks: On Thursday, Penn State over Ohio State 4-3, and Michigan over Wisconsin 5-1. On Friday, Minnesota over Penn State 3-2, and Michigan over Michigan State 4-2. Championship: Michigan over Minnesota, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Honestly, I can see anyone emerging from this field with this year’s autobid, even Wisconsin — although the Badgers would have to get some help from their opponents in the form of timely mistakes on which Wisconsin could capitalize and an unbelievable performance in net from Joel Rumpel. It is likely that Minnesota will emerge the champs, given the way the Badgers closed ranks last weekend to secure the regular-season title.
That’s not how I’m calling it, though. On Thursday, Ohio State over Penn State 4-3, and Michigan over Wisconsin 4-2. In the semifinals, I’m going with the higher seeds: Minnesota over Ohio State 4-2, and Michigan State over Michigan 2-1. And in the championship game, Michigan State over Minnesota 2-1.
Congratulations to all the Big Ten postseason honorees, especially Player of the Year Jake Hildebrand, Defensive Player of the Year — for the second straight year — Mike Reilly, Freshman of the Year Dylan Larkin and Coach of the Year Guy Gadowsky.
And congratulations to Michigan senior forward Zach Hyman, who is one of 10 Hobey Baker finalists. Hyman has been especially fun to watch this season. In 114 games in his first three seasons, Hyman registered 13 goals and 22 assists total. In 34 games so far this year, he has 19 goals and 30 assists.