Both of the Big Ten’s Michigan teams played the U.S. Under-18 squad in exhibition this week, giving everyone else a chance to climb the standings. One team did exactly that.
1. The Gophers rolled over the Badgers.
For the second week in a row, Wisconsin failed to take a single point from an opponent in a two-game set, which is especially bad news for the Badgers now that Big Ten play is underway. Minnesota, though, took advantage of a struggling opponent and earned six points in the process, surging ahead of the idle Wolverines with whom they were tied for first place entering the weekend. Minnesota has 24 points to Michigan’s 18, although the Wolverines have two games in hand on the Gophers.
Not only did Minnesota beat Wisconsin in two games, but the Gophers outscored the Badgers 13-2 in the series, shutting out Wisconsin 4-0 the first night. In Friday’s win, freshman Eric Schierhorn’s made 29 saves in his third shutout of the season. Nine different Gophers accounted for the 13 goals in two games, and junior defenseman Michael Brodzinski registered his first career hat trick in Saturday’s contest. Brodzinski has eight goals in 23 games this season, two short of his offensive production in 62 games in his first two seasons.
With the wins, the Gophers extend their win streak to five games, and Minnesota is showing signs of coming together as a team at the perfect time of the season. The Badgers’ winless streak is now six games (0-5-1).
2. The Buckeyes will not be ignored.
Ohio State began the second half by capturing the Florida College Classic title just before the new year began and used those wins to propel them to a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2), but an 8-6 loss to Michigan Jan. 17 snapped that, and the Buckeyes fell in overtime to the Nittany Lions on Friday night, 3-2.
Saturday was another story, entirely. Senior captain Craig Dalrymple scored at 3:30 in the first period and Ohio State went on to a 5-1 win over Penn State, with five different Buckeyes scoring in the contest. In fact, the Buckeyes — like the Gophers — like to spread that scoring around; six different Buckeyes accounted for the seven total goals that OSU scored in the weekend, and with that offensive output, the Buckeyes improve to an average of 3.32 goals per game (14th nationally). Of course, they’re still allowing 3.18 goals per game and are among the bottom third of teams on defense nationally, but so are four of the six B1G teams, so that may not be a factor in conference play down the stretch.
In the second half, the Buckeyes have impressed me as a highly skilled and fast team. Against Penn State, OSU may have proven that it is a team to contend with in conference play.
3. The Spartans win. Finally. Sort of.
Heading into this weekend’s road series against Ohio State, Michigan State has lost eight consecutive games — at least on the record. Saturday night, the Spartans held off the U.S. Under-18 team in overtime, 3-2, and even though the win doesn’t count, the reward for effort must feel like the proverbial shot in the arm that Michigan State has needed.
“It was nice to find a way to win,” is what coach Tom Anastos said after the game. “It was a good game and given how it ended, it was something we needed.”
Sophomore Ed Minney had 36 saves in the game, and junior Thomas Ebbing had the game-winner on the power play at 3:09 in OT.
How tough a season has it been for the Spartans? Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told the Lansing State Journal last week that he’s “spending hours watching over programs that need some recalibration, and hockey is one of those.” Hollis said, “I think we need to continue the dialogue to save the sport of college hockey the best that we can in the future.”
When an AD goes on the record to discuss concerns about a given program, that program is struggling, indeed.
Maybe the win over the Developmental Program team can help the Spartans earn a win that counts. Michigan State has one win in its last 16 games.