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.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Know Thy Enemy: Starting a New Era - Big Ten Play Begins with #1 Minnesota

This weekend begins a new era in the history of Michigan State hockey. This won't be the first time Big Ten hockey has been around before, but not in quite the same format as we are about to witness. The teams used to compete for a conference championship as part of the WCHA - and they even played in a conference tournament to help determine the conference champion.

Michigan State claims 5 Big Ten championships in its history: 1959, 1967, 1971, 1973 (shared), and 1976. These titles were claimed when the four teams that sponsored hockey (MSU, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) were all part of the WCHA running up until 1981. In fact, Big Ten roots can be traced back to even before that, but this is when the MSU record books started tracking it.

MSU claims a 94-124-6 all-time Big Ten record. Minnesota boasts the best all-time Big Ten record at 122-93-11 with 10 conference championships. Michigan and Wisconsin both claim 5 championships each.

Ohio State does have claim to 6 conference games prior to this season - losing all 6. After Michigan swept them last week, Ohio State is 0 for forever in the Big Ten, 0-8-0. I suspect that'll change this year.


Despite that history, this feels like the first time we really see a true Big Ten conference. All six teams are together, not part of the CCHA or WCHA, and instead will battle it out over 20 conference games, 2 home, 2 away. All six teams will qualify for the conference tournament - playing over a 3-day period in St. Paul for the right to play in the NCAA tournament.

It's a new beginning. And while the conference has taken a lot of heat, I think a lot of Big Ten fans maintained that this would be good for college hockey. It brings a major brand name to the table - in terms of conference play. The BTN has picked up just about every game (or the Fox Sports Network has) in the conference.

It also allowed smaller schools to form conferences and battle for their own spots in the NCAA tournament. Would Ferris State be 8-0-2 in the CCHA this year - if it still existed with the Big Ten teams inside the conference? That's what they are in the new WCHA - 11-2-2 overall. They might be, Ferris State has a good hockey program. What about the other teams? LSSU? Michigan Tech? Northern Michigan? Are they any worse off today than a year ago?

They still get games with the Big Ten schools - MSU went up to Michigan Tech for the first time in two decades. MSU still went to Western, and they still play Ferris State. Minnesota still played in-state rivals Bemidji State, Minnesota State, and Minnesota-Duluth. Wisconsin still has former WCHA rival Colorado College. The list goes on and on. People might hate the Big Ten right now, but it really seems like everyone is in a good position right now - so maybe it wasn't a bad move after all?


Ok, so the non-conference season isn't over yet. Michigan State will have 3 non-conference games after this weekend - a single game at home against Ferris State and the two game GLI series at Comerica Park.

MSU is 5-7 on the year, but they've been much better at home posting a 5-2 record so far this season.

 Michigan State has beaten Princeton (twice), American International (twice), and Boston University so far this year. Those three teams are a combined 13-24-1. Not exactly a gaudy record there. In fact, BU is the only team that has an above .500 record of the three, and they are only 7-6-1. On the flip side, MSU has lost to UMass (twice), Mass.-Lowell, Michigan Tech (twice), and Western Michigan (twice). Those four teams are a combined 26-28-6. In fact, only Mass.-Lowell (11-4-0) has an above .500 record in this group as well - though WMU is .500 (6-6-2), and Tech isn't far off (6-8-2) .

Still, it doesn't make you giddy that things are looking up. With that said, MSU is coming off a weekend sweep against Princeton including posting an impressive 8-2 score on Sunday. I don't care who you are - when you win 8-2, that's pretty good. MSU's power play looked good going 3 for 7 on the day, and the d-men got involved, a huge sign for Michigan State.

And yes, the injury bug wasn't kind early, and the freshmen have shown flashes. Hildebrand and Yanakeff have played solid between the pipes. Maybe MSU is simply starting to turn the corner in December?

The schedule coming up will tell us - playing #1 Minnesota, #6 Ferris State, Michigan Tech again, then either Western Michigan or #3 Michigan. The good news for MSU is three of the games are at home - where things have been better. The last time Minnesota was in East Lansing, the Spartans defeated Minnesota 4-3 and followed that up with an exciting 4-4 tie the next night.


Minnesota currently has the 2nd best offense in the country at 4.14 GPG. The defense isn't bad either tied for 8th at 2.14 goals against per a game. MSU is currently 39th in the country at 2.58 goals per a game, and the defense is ranked a little better at 26th overall at 2.69 goals against per a game.

The power plays have been struggling for both teams as Minnesota ranks 46th at 14.29% (10 for 70), and MSU is now only 51st overall at 13.56% (8 for 59). So yes, prior to that 3 for 7 game, MSU was converting at a less than 10% rate of 5 for 52. The PK units haven't been perfect either - Minnesota is tied for 37th at 80% (48 for 60) and MSU's is 40th at 79.6% (43 for 54). The good news is neither team is penalized much as Minnesota is at 11.86 minutes per game, and MSU is only at 10.5.

Minnesota is pretty young too - lead by a strong junior and freshmen class. Sam Warning (Jr.) leads the team with 20 points. Junior Seth Ambroz leads the team with 7 goals, and freshmen Hudson Fasching (8 goals, 14 pts) and Justin Kloos (5 goals, 14 pts) lead the younger guys in scoring. Overall Minnesota is very balanced on offense as 17 players have at least one goal, 15 have at least two,  and 11 have at least three goals.

In goal sophomore Adam Wilcox has been steady between the pipes posting a 10-2-1 record, 2.21 GAA, and .923 save percentage.

In case you are curious, 13 Spartans have at least one goal this season, seven of which have at least two,  and four have more than three.  Senior Greg Wolfe leads the way with 7 goals and 10 points. Michigan State's freshmen have been solid starting the year off as well - MacKenzie MacEachern has 5 goals (8 points) and Joe Cox has 4 goals (6 points).

Big Ten Standings

GPWLTSOWPointsTotal Points Possible
Michigan State00000060
Penn State00000060
Ohio State20200054


Look, expecting a sweep this weekend would be - well - a very tall task. I really don't think it's unreasonable to expect some points though. Michigan State has been better at home, and Boston University was ranked when they came into East Lansing. At this point though  - stepping in the right direction and competing will be just as important as trying to pull out a victory or two. Minnesota is good. Michigan State is trying to learn how to be good night in and night out. Nothing wrong with that - as long as you are consistently making those positive gains - playing hard, finishing checks, winning face-offs, improving the power play, improving the offense, and improving the defense.

Right now I'm not sure anything will shock me with this team - and while the wins are important, how they play is going to be examined throughout the remainder of this season. They did well last weekend, but now it's a bigger test, against a bigger named opponent, and the first game of a new era.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

And we're off!

And we're off. The hockey season is under way, and Michigan State had a rough time of it out on the east coast. Spartan fans are going to be tested early, as this (still) young team looks to gel early on against a tough non-conference schedule before the first Big Ten season gets underway.

Michigan State started the regular season getting swept at UMass. UMass built a 2-0 lead in the second period, and Greg Wolfe brought MSU back to within 1 with just over 7 minutes to go in the game, but the Spartans failed to connect on an equalizer. UMass added an empty net goal for the 3-1 win. Hildebrand was sharp in goal stopping 32 of 34 shots.

MSU was out-shot for the game (35-32), but the Spartans actually held a 27-25 edge in shots through 2 periods of play.

The second night, Michigan State got on the board first and held a 2-1 lead after 1, but the penalty kill proved to be the issue, as UMass went 4 for 8 on the power play en route to a 5-2 win. UMass tallied 3 power play goals in the second period alone to build that 5-2 lead. Michael Ferrantino and Greg Wolfe scored for the Spartans in the opening frame. Yanakeff stopped 28 of 33 shots. MSU was 1 for 6 on the power play.

Things don't get any easier for MSU as they host UMass-Lowell & Boston University this weekend at Munn Ice Arena.

Around The Big Ten

Minnesota and Michigan are the big winners early on in the conference. Minnesota swept the IceBreaker Tournament knocking off Mercyhurst and New Hampshire. They went on the road to face a former WCHA-foe and swept Bemidji State. They face BC this weekend.

Michigan is scoring some huge PWR points early on after knocking off BC at home, going on the road for a wild 7-4 win at RIT, then heading to UNH to take 3 of 4 possible points with a 1-1 tie and a 3-2 OT victory. They face BU and Mass.-Lowell this weekend as well.

Penn State started off strong with a 4-1 win against Army. They didn't follow it up though the following weekend as they were swept at Air Force (5-2, 3-1).

Wisconsin got off to a strong start as well opening up with a sweep against Northern Michigan. They travelled east though and got swept losing at BC (9-2 - wowsers) and BU (7-3). Nothing like getting outscored 16-5 in one weekend.

Finally, Ohio State is still looking for its first win this season after being swept by the state of Ohio. They lost a home and home with Miami (6-2, 6-3), and followed that up with a 4-3 road loss at Bowling Green. The good news for them is they only have 1 game left his year against a team from Ohio.

Big Ten Power Rankings

1. Michigan (3-0-1). Giving Michigan the early edge based on a victory over Boston College and going 1-0-1 at New Hampshire.

2. Minnesota (4-0-0). Minnesota can make an early statement this weekend against BC. Only problem is their non-conference schedule resembles a SEC football non-conference schedule - a lot of home games. They do go to Notre Dame though.

3. Wisconsin (2-2-0). Things seem to drop off here, though Wisconsin should be a player in the Big Ten title hunt this year. It's tough to ignore the 16-5 thing this weekend.

4. Penn State (1-2-0). They get this spot based on the fact that they've won.

5. Michigan State (0-2-0). Stay out of the box, and the wins will come. Greg Wolfe off to a hot start.

6. Ohio State (0-3-0). So, who wins first - MSU or Ohio State?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

2013 - 2014 Big Ten Hockey Schedule Released

2013 - 2014 Big Ten Hockey Schedule

We've been waiting for this day - well, really not so much this day but the start of the season. In the meantime, we'll take this.

MSU's 2013 - 2014 Big Ten Hockey Schedule:

All games Friday-Saturday unless otherwise noted

December 6th-7th -   vs. Minnesota
January 10th-11th -  at Ohio State
January 17th-18th - vs. Penn State
January 24th -25th - vs. Michigan/at Michigan (JLA)
Thursday January 30th, January 31st, and/or February 1st - at Minnesota ***
February 7th-8th -  vs. Ohio State
February 14th-15th  - at Penn State
February 21st-22nd  - at Wisconsin
March 7th - 8th - at Michigan/vs. Michigan
March 14th - 15th - vs. Wisconsin

The Big Ten will feature a 20 game schedule with complete home and home series for all six schools. Michigan is the home team at Joe Louis Arena this season, as MSU will host two games at Munn, and Michigan will host one game at Yost.

*** - Series will be played on January 30th/31st or January 31st/February 1st

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ohio State Fires Coach Osiecki ....... Would they go after Gwozdecky?

Ever since Denver University somewhat surprised the college hockey world by letting George Gwozdecky go (all he did was win 2 national titles there and get DU back to being a national power), there has been a lot of speculation on what he might do next.

In an equally surprising move - Ohio State has let Coach Osiecki go

This is just thinking out loud - but could Ohio State be going after Gwozdecky next?

Coach Gwozdecky is 59 years old and has stated he's not done coaching yet.

I've always thought Ohio State was a sleeping giant in the college hockey world, only without the past. Ohio State has the resources to build a championship program, but they need to find the right guy to build it up, that can recruit - pulling in kids to Columbus.

Gwozdecky certainly has done that at Denver.

The timing certainly seems odd. It's not that Ohio State has dominated the CCHA or anything, but they have gone longer with other coaches before letting them go, and the results really haven't been much different. Is this a case of - they see a guy they feel they MUST have - and now they are going after him?

Could Columbus be his next stop?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

MSU All-Access Senior Night

It's been a few weeks since MSU was eliminated from the CCHA playoffs. In that time, we've seen conference champions crowned, and a Frozen Four field take shape. This year's Frozen Four (taking place next weekend) features three first timers (Mass.-Lowell, Quinnipiac, St. Cloud State) and Yale.

I'm still planning on taking a look back at the season that was, but in the meantime - here is the latest MSU all-access episode featuring senior night, as five seniors said good-bye.

Link to MSU All-Access Episode 9: Senior Night

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Miami Eliminates MSU With Pair of 4-1 Victories

Game Recaps

Game 2 Boxscore // Game 2 Recap

Game 3 Boxscore (pending...) // Game 3 Recap (pending....)

Series Thoughts
The Spartans left it all on the ice this weekend, after a grueling trip and a stunning game 1 victory. It might not have been the ending they wanted, but it was a great step in the right direction for the program.  This marks the last time MSU will play in the CCHA, as the next game will be part of the newly formed Big Ten conference.

MSU played very well this weekend, and earned that 3-0 victory in game 1. Miami came back and played much better on the second night, even despite MSU scoring early on in the game, and they showed why they are the CCHA champions. Still, the Spartans responded with a great effort on Sunday, a bad bounce led to the first goal, and Miami built a 2-0 lead, but the Spartans still did roll over. They continued to battle, even as Yanakeff came out to play in the 2nd period. The Spartans got a few power play opportunities and eventually got one in to pull within one. It would stay that way until about halfway through the third period when Miami finally got their breathing room back. After that the Spartans still tried to chip away, but Miami added an empty net goal to finish the scoring off.

Miami will continue to the CCHA semi-finals against Michigan next Saturday. Notre Dame will play Ohio State (funny for how much the Big Ten got knocked, but 4 of the 6 teams are still playing in their respective conference tournaments).

We'll have more thoughts as the off season continues, including a recap of the season, a look ahead to the Big Ten - though right now some time off to reflect seems appropriate. The underdog might not have won this weekend, but they showed the program is heading in the right direction.