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Pick Six: 6 Things to Watch in the Big Ten (2014 Halloween Edition)

Injuries, discoveries and two teams make once in a generation trips this week in the Big Ten.

Michigan D Michael Downing
Michigan D Michael Downing
Matt Christians

This weekend in the Big Ten features a few newsworthy series. Everyone is playing this weekend besides Wisconsin. (The Badgers are off for the second consecutive weekend; not counting a 3-3 exhibition tie with D3 St. Norbert).

Four days after completing a sweep of Holy Cross, Penn State (4-1-2, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) makes a quick turnaround to host Bentley (3-3-0, 1-1-0 Atlantic Hockey) on Thursday and Friday. So far there was no fatigue - the Nittany Lions defeated Bentley 3-2 Thursday - and the strategy of playing the UConns and Bentleys of the college hockey world is paying off early. Taylor Holmstrom (2G-8A) is the first Big Ten forward to hit double digits.

Minnesota (4-0-0 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) and St. Cloud State (2-2-0, 0-0-0-0 NCHC) play a home-and-home series between the defending Big Ten and NCHC champions. The Huskies continue its tough start to the season, hosting #1 Minnesota on Friday night. The Gophers return the favor Saturday against St. Cloud State, which is #6 in the SBN Power Rankings.

Michigan (2-3-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) travels to play the undefeated Huskies (4-0-0, 2-0-0 WCHA) in Houghton for the first time since 1983 when the Wolverines and Michigan Tech were CCHA members. Michigan State (1-3-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) also is keeping it in -state and old-school CCHA by hosting Ferris State (2-3-0, 0-2-0 WCHA) in East Lansing.

Ohio State (1-3-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten), meanwhile, opens the $172.2M HarborCenter complex with a two-game series against Canisius (4-2-0, 3-1-0 Atlantic Hockey). The Buckeyes were idle last week.


1. Both Michigan State, which has lost its last five games by one goal, and Ferris State are coming into this weekend's series on a three-game losing streak and looking to turn things around. For the Spartans, the trip East saw a pair of low-scoring losses to BU (almost shutting down the Terriers' powerful early season offense) and UMass-Lowell. Only Ron "RJ" Boyd lit the lamp. Even worse, the games left Michigan State banged up. (MSU isn't alone - Michigan canceled practice Wednesday with several players nursing injuries or sick.)

The good news is junior defenseman John Draeger will make his season debut. The Minnesota Wild draft pick missed the first four games of the season after undergoing off-season surgery.

2. Minnesota's comeback 5-3 win at home Saturday against Bemidji State was the first time the Gophers trailed this season. Special teams played a big role in the team's success, with the Gophers outscoring BSU 5-1 (with a power play goal) over the two wins.

"Four games into the season, we're not going to be winning every game this year so we expected it. I think we had to buckle down," said Justin Kloos.

Part of the success has to do with chemistry. Minnesota's top power play spent most of last season together. Knowing where the other players are going to be to the point where no-look passes through the crease are successful, a play seniors Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) and Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) twice were able to connect with one with the man advantage, is just that. An advantage.

At the same time, the Gophers learned more from its first back-to-back second night than just having the nation's leading power play at 35.29%.

"That was the first time this whole year we had played back to back games, so it was a little different. Obviously you're tired a little more," Boyd said Saturday. "I thought we played pretty well. People were really tired tonight with back-to-back games early in the season is a little bit tougher, but we'll get into the swing of it now and be picking up in stride."

3. The Gophers and Huskies will play for the third and fourth time in 2014.  Minnesota won both games, including a 4-0 shutout in the West Regional final. There would already be bragging rights on the line for the teams separated by 80 miles if St. Cloud State (possibly without starting goalie Charlie Lindgren) didn't have an additional motivation.

The Huskies, coming off a road series split against national champion Union, and Minnesota, last year's national runner up, remain two of college hockey's elite teams. The two also share many similarities. And this isn't even counting the fact that the Brodzinski brothers Michael (Minnesota) and Jonny (St. Cloud State) are facing one another.

In other words, "it's on."

4. Coming off a weekend where the team scored 10 goals, Michigan, averaging 35 shots per game, is 9-1 against Michigan Tech in the last 10 games between the two teams stretching back to 2004. This year the Wolverines will be playing against a Huskies goalie in Jamie Phillips that gave up a single goal on the road in last weekend's sweep against Ferris State.

In comparison, Michigan has relied upon a platoon of Steve Racine and Zach Nagelvoort the past two weekends. While Racine got the win, Nagelvoort may have had the tougher night, making 31 saves in a 3-2 loss. The Wolverine can be the one Big Ten team able to ride the hot hand in net with a pair of goalies that have shown the capability to do so. So far the season hasn't played out that way. Neither have had a weekend yet like Phillips and not sure who that is going against undefeated Michigan Tech.

5. SB Nation College Hockey's Jeff Cox published his scouting report of Michigan 2015 Draft Eligible Zach Werenski.

6. There are no Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge games this week. WIth UMass-Lowell and Boston University going a combined 3-1 against the two Michigan schools in Massachusetts, Hockey East leads the 20 game challenge 16-12.

It will resume November 7 when Minnesota hosts Notre Dame and Michigan State travels to Durham and plays New Hampshire.


Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --