Seventeen thoughts this week on the weekend that was in college hockey...
1. Michigan and Ohio State faced off on a Sunday afternoon in a game that started 30 minutes after tip-off of a Michigan basketball game. which feels like a scenario directly out of a 2012 pamphlet entitled "THE BIG TEN WILL KILL COLLEGE HOCKEY" It's a shame to see hockey already treated as such an afterthought by the league. I understand it is a business and the Big Ten learned very quickly that hockey is not a lucrative proposition for them, but the principle of 'You break it, you bought it" should apply too.
2. The actual game on Sunday ended up being a fun one though. Fourteen goals scored in an 8-6 Michigan win with 96 total shots on goal. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are averaging over ten goals per game in their last five games against each other. Michigan was down by two goals heading into the third period, and the game didn't feel like it was over. In fact, it was almost expected that the Wolverines would make another push. In a day and age when games that are 2-0 in the first period feel like they're over, it's fun to see a game like that. That was a game a fan of any team could enjoy.
3. Kyle Connor has played eight games since being snubbed by the US World Junior and has scored 20 points. The rest of the Big Ten might be even madder that he didn't get picked than I am. Connor is now tied for the national lead in goals scored with 18 and tied for second in points with 36. His linemate Tyler Motte is also at 18 goals and tied atop the leaderboard in goal-scoring.
4. The Wolverines now lead in the nation in scoring with 4.86 goals per game, which is just unfathomable in this day and age. Last year, Michigan led the country in scoring with 3.86 goals per game. The only team over the past three seasons to even aveage four per game was the Gaudreau-led Boston College team, which scored 4.10 per game.
5. And even though their defense has been bad, the Wolverines are in great position to finally return to the NCAA Tournament this year. There's still the possibility they could completely fall apart down the stretch, but it would take a huge collapse at this point. The Wolverines ugly non-conference schedule ended up looking not so bad, with RPI, Dartmouth, and Robert Morris all hovering around 20th nationally in the rankings. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have 13 regular season games left that includes road series at Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, which shouldn't hurt their RPI that much if they lose a few of those.
6. As for Ohio State, I speculated back in December that maybe Ohio State wasn't as bad as their record indicated. Since that time, the Buckeyes are 3-1-2 with wins over Boston College and Cornell and a tie against Michigan. I had kind of chalked their performance down in Florida to a dead cat bounce, but it appears that the Buckeyes, who were an extremely young team coming into the season, are starting to show signs of improvement in the second half. That should be enough to keep them above the dregs of the conference in Wisconsin and Michigan State, and keep some heat off head coach Steve Rohlik.
7. The only bad part of that game came at the end, when Michigan defenseman Cutler Martin delivered this brutal cheap shot to Ohio State's Brendon Kearney. I'll be curious to see how the Big Ten handles the suspension, but watching the replay, even two games seems to lenient for that punch. I would think something in the 5-10 game range would be appropriate.
8. Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Wisconsin played two close games, but was swept at Penn State. As I remarked over the weekend, it's amazing how quickly that's just become the expected result. The Badgers are at four wins on the season, matching their total from last season, and there's no doubt they've looked a little better than last season. But of those four wins, two have come against Arizona State, and one came in a split against Michigan State--the Spartans only win in their last 16 games, by the way.
9. I, regrettably, don't devote as much attention to the women's game, but there was a fascinating game on Sunday where the Minnesota State women took a 1-0 lead into the third period against Minnesota, despite being outshot like 200-1, before falling 2-1. While the Gophers might not be quite as dominating as they have been in recent years, especially with Hannah Brandt out of the line-up, they're still a very good team and the Mavericks are 1-45-2 in their last 48 WCHA games. That would have been one of the strangest upsets in college hockey history.
10. Quinnipiac had the weekend off last weekend and is still the top team in the nation by a good margin. The gap between #1 Quinnipiac and #2 St. Cloud State in the RPI is about equivalent to the gap between SCSU and #6 Harvard this week.
11. With so many ECAC teams near the top of the computer rankings heading into the second half of the season, it was inevitable that at least a few would fall by the wayside. The first appears to be St. Lawrence, who has started the new year 0-5-0, dropping their overall record to 10-10-2, and 25th in the RPI after being in NCAA Tournament consideration.
12. On the flip side, Dartmouth is 5-1-0 in their last six games to bring their record back to 8-8-1 overall and they now sit 19th in RPI.
13. Michigan Tech picked up a very important three points at home last weekend Minnesota State to stay in contention for the MacNaughton Cup. The Huskies still trail the Mavericks by three points in the league standings. They'll have this coming weekend off to prepare for another huge series, at Bowling Green who trail the Mavericks by percentage points in the standings.
14. It's a good thing Minnesota State, Bowling Green, and Michigan Tech are playing for the one of the coolest trophies in hockey in the MacNaughton Cup, because it appears that is all they will be playing for. The three sit 20th, 24th, and 22nd respectively in the RPI. Unless one of them goes on a really big run--Bowling Green has the best opportunity with series against Michigan Tech and Minnesota State still remaining--it's looking very likely that the conference won't receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament this year.
15. It wouldn't be a Dean Blais-coached team without a spin of the goalie roulette wheel. With top goalie Evan Weninger out with an injury, the Mavericks turned to third string walk-on Alex Blankenburg, who made his first career start in a 4-3 OT win over North Dakota on Friday. The next night, the Mavericks went back to junior Kirk Thompson, who was chased after allowing three goals on nine shots. Blankenburg didn't fare much better, allowing two on 14 shots. Thompson and Blankenburg both have 88% save percentages, which isn't going to be good enough for UNO. They'll need Weninger back if they're going to make a run at the NCHC league title.
16. It's been an impressive bounceback year for Notre Dame. The Irish finished with a sub-.500 overall record last season as they had a difficult time replacing a big senior class from the season prior. This year, they currently lead Hockey East by winning percentage and look a good bet to be back in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish lost their top two scorers from last year, but returned a good chunk of last year's team, and with another year of experience, they've been much better. Leading the charge are sophomores Anders Bjork and Jake Evans, who have both taken a big step forward in their second season and are currently the top two scorers on the team.
17. Wisconsin freshman Matt Jurusik made 54 saves in Friday's overtime loss to Penn State. He became the first Wisconsin goalie to record 50+ saves in a game since Bernd Bruckler in 2002. In case you were wondering, Bruckler is still tending goal professionally in his native Austria's top pro league.