Wednesday, January 8, 2014

B1G Hockey Gets Going - MSU Offense Does Too

We are into the new year, and the non-conference games (for the most part) have been completed, now all six conference teams are going to be seeing a lot of each other between now and March. This weekend will be the first full weekend of Big Ten Hockey with all six teams in action.


Michigan State at Ohio State  (Fri - BTN)
Michigan at Wisconsin  (Fri - BTN, Sat - FSW)


Minnesota at Penn State (Mon - BTN)

Conference Standings

GPWLSOWSOLPointsTotal Points Possible
Michigan State 20110256
Ohio State20200054
Penn State20200054

Each team only has a handful of non-Big Ten games remaining. Minnesota plays in the Minnesota Cup with St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, and Minnesota-Duluth. Michigan State only has an exhibition contest with the U-18 USA Development Team. Penn State has a single game with BC remaining. Michigan, Ohio State, and Wisconsin are all done with their non-conference games.


The conference will play a major hand in the NCAA tournament process. Here is where the Big Ten teams rank in the RPI (59 teams):

Minnesota - #1
Michigan - #9
Wisconsin - #14
Ohio State - #26
Michigan State - #45
Penn State - #50

Minnesota and Michigan are sitting in good position, and Wisconsin is right up there as well. Ohio State could certainly play their way up the rankings. To a lessor extent, Michigan State and Penn State would need to go on a pretty big run, but when you are playing nothing but top 30 RPI teams, you could move up quickly.

The current Pairwise ranking - which has changed a bit this year on the formula, but it will still be used in the selection process:

Minnesota - #1
Michigan - T-#9  (9th based on RPI)
Wisconsin - T-#13 (14th based on RPI)
Ohio State - #25
Michigan State - #45
Penn State - #50

So the conference is looking like they could get 3 teams into the tournament, but obviously there is still a lot of hockey left to be played.

GLI Recap

Michigan State entered the GLI looking to improve their 4th place finish from a season ago. Offense had been a struggle and for the first 40 minutes of the GLI, it continued to be a big issue. Michigan Tech held a 1-0 lead going into the final period, and the Huskies dominated most of the play as they out-shot MSU 27-11 in the first two periods.

Then the offense began to wake up. The Spartans doubled their shot total in the final frame with 12 in that period alone. Michigan State actually rallied to take a 2-1 lead in the game as Matt Berry and Ryan Keller put the Spartans ahead in the first 4:02 of the period. The lead was short lived though as Tech found their footing again, and Michigan Tech would eventually advance in a shoot-out. The game though went down as a tie. This was the second straight year MSU lost in the GLI semi-finals in a shoot-out.

For the second straight year the Spartans played Michigan in the 3rd place game. Michigan dominated the game a year ago, but this time around the Spartans controlled the play for pretty much the entire 60 minutes. Offense wasn't an issue, as MSU got 40 shots on goal - many of them of high quality. Steve Racine stood tall for UM, but it wasn't enough as the Spartans won 3-0. Hildebrand was strong in net as well earning the shutout. Matt Berry added an insurance marker in the 3rd period giving MSU a 2-0 lead.

The question becomes where does MSU go from here. Is this a springboard? MSU may have only gotten 3rd, but more importantly - they seemed to finally find a little more flow in the offensive end from just more than 1 line. They didn't lose on the weekend either. Plus the win against Michigan was the first for MSU away from Munn this season. Now can MSU win a true road game? MSU is 0-5 in true road games (1-5-1 away from Munn), and they only have 9 of those remaining (1 UM game is at Joe Louis Arena). Can they build upon this tournament this upcoming weekend at Ohio State.

The Buckeyes aren't exactly setting the world on fire - though they are coming off an impressive sweep of Mercyhurst (6-3, 7-2), and they have been very good at home this season (9-3-0). OSU is 0-2 in the Big Ten though after being swept by Michigan in a home and home about five weeks ago. Ohio State's schedule gets tougher too with back to back road trips to Minnesota and Wisconsin after this weekend, so they will be gunning for as many points as possible this weekend.

Ohio State swept the series last year winning both games in East Lansing (1-0, 3-1). The last time the teams met in Columbus, Michigan State actually swept the series. In fact going back to last year, the road team has won 5 in a row and 7 of the last 10 games.

Should be interesting to watch to see how the Spartans come out in the second half.