Around the Big Ten: Hockey
Matt McClure, Tommy Calpin and Christopher Hess breakdown the final week of regular season play around the Big Ten Conference:
The final weekend of Big Ten regular season play is on the horizon. Though the Ohio State Buckeyes locked up the regular season title and No.1 seed in the Big Ten tournament, the remainder of the field is still jockeying for positioning.
With numerous teams still fighting for spots two through seven, every game matters this weekend. Three crucial series will help shape the field for not only the Big Ten tournament but the NCAA tournament as well.
Michigan State at Ohio State
Ohio State may have already solidified its spot atop the Big Ten, but they still have much to play for. With losses in three of their last four contests, the Buckeyes may have just played their way out of a No.1 regional seed for the NCAA tournament. Currently sitting at No.7 in the Pairwise Rankings, Ohio State essentially needs to win out to remain in contention for a No.2 regional seed.
This hunt starts with taking care of business against a Michigan State side who left a bitter taste in the Buckeyes’ mouth earlier this season. The Spartans had a five-goal third period in route to upsetting Ohio State.
Unfortunately for Michigan State, it can no longer clinch home ice advantage for the first round of the Big Ten tournament. However, the Spartans can climb as high as fifth if they can shock the Buckeyes once again and receive some help from Michigan and/or Notre Dame.
This is also one of the last chances for college hockey’s leading scorer, Taro Hirose, to pad his Hobey Baker résumé. It will be no light task for Hirose, as he opposes the Big Ten’s top defensive unit, with two of the conference’s top goaltenders – Sean Romeo and Tommy Nappier.
Michigan at Wisconsin
For Michigan, its Big Ten destiny is in its own hands. Three points this weekend ensures that the Wolverines will return to Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor next weekend to host a first-round series.
Michigan will look to keep its momentum rolling, after taking four of their six possible points from Ohio State last weekend.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin’s only shot to remain home for the first round would be to sweep Michigan in addition to a Notre Dame sweep over Penn State.
In the earlier series between these two teams, both games ended in a tie, with Michigan clinching the extra point in game one via 3-on-3 overtime, and Wisconsin returning the favor in game two via shootout.
Wisconsin may be welcoming back K’Andre Miller this weekend. The Badgers’ leading scorer missed last weekend’s series against Penn State due to injury.
If Miller is unable to go, Wisconsin will look for Josh Ess and Linus Weissbach to stay hot, as each recorded three points in the Badgers’ game two win over the Nittany Lions.
Given how evenly matched the first two meetings were, along with the unpredictability of the Big Ten this season, it is fair to say that anything can happen this weekend in Madison.
Penn State at Notre Dame
When Penn State met Notre Dame in December, both teams were in the top 10 and looked primed to make the NCAA tournament. Now, both have disappointed drastically in the Big Ten, and are on the outside looking in at the NCAA tournament field.
Both teams essentially need a sweep to keep any at-large bid hopes alive, but in terms of the Big Ten tournament, both teams need at least three (in Penn State’s case, four) points to clinch home ice in the first round.
The Nittany Lions hope to welcome back prolific scorer Evan Barratt, who missed last weekend due to injury. Barratt would be a welcome addition to the lineup, as he tallied four points against the Fighting Irish in December.
It is also worth noting that Notre Dame has the second-best scoring defense in the conference, only conceding an average of 2.34 goals per game led by goaltender Cale Morris. His 2.30 goals against average and .927 save percentage both rank second in the Big Ten.
However, if the Fighting Irish wants to take down Penn State this weekend, they will have to score at a higher volume. Since Jan. 26, Notre Dame has only averaged 2.25 goals per game in its last eight contests. That will likely not be enough production against a Nittany Lions’ squad, which leads all of college hockey in scoring, averaging 4.66 goals per game.
The Golden Gophers are ending regular season play with a non-conference set against Arizona State. Minnesota will look to continue its hot streak into the Big Ten tournament and will likely root for a Wisconsin sweep and a pair of overtime games between Penn State and Notre Dame to keep as high of seeding as possible.