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Pick Six: 6 Things to Watch In The Big Ten (October 9, 2014)

This week's Pick Six includes Wisconsin's road trip, two Minnesota teams eschewing the Hippodrome in the Iron Range for some Indiana Dunes and the Hockey East/Big Ten Challenge.

While Michigan State won't be playing this weekend, 4 other Big Ten teams will.
While Michigan State won't be playing this weekend, 4 other Big Ten teams will.
Bill Rapai

Four of the six Big Ten teams kick off the regular season Friday with non-conference games. Minnesota and Wisconsin participate in season-opening tournaments while Ohio State faces a top-five Providence team in a tough opening test. Penn State, meanwhile, hosts Connecticut for blue and white bragging rights.

Only Michigan State will be waiting for Game 1 after this weekend following Michigan's road loss to Ferris State last Saturday. The Wolverines did play Wilfrid Laurier Thursday in what is an odd starting schedule (one game followed by two separate exhibitions).

Anyways, this week's Pick Six includes Wisconsin's road trip, two Minnesota teams eschewing the Hippodrome in the Iron Range for some Indiana Dunes and the Hockey East/Big Ten Challenge.

Games (all times local to team's home):

Friday

Minnesota vs. Minnesota-Duluth - 1:00 p.m. CT (Ice Breaker Tournament in South Bend, Indiana)
TV: None, Radio: 1500ESPN (Twin Cities), Stream: WatchND.TV

Providence @ Ohio State - 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: None, Radio: 1460 AM (Columbus), Stream: Buckeye Vision ($$$)

Connecticut @ Penn State - 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: None, Radio: WRSC 103.1 FM/Penn State Sports Network, Stream: BTNPlus

Wisconsin vs. Alaska - 8:00 p.m. CT (Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska)
TV: None, Radio: WIBA 1310 AM (Madison), Stream: WCHA.TV ($$$)

Saturday

Connecticut @Penn State - 3:00 p.m. ET
TV: None, Radio: WRSC 103.1 FM (State College), Stream: College Sports Live ($$$)

Providence @ Ohio State - 7:00 p.m. ET
TV: None, Radio: 1460 AM (Columbus), Stream: Buckeye Vision ($$$)

Wisconsin @ Alaska-Anchorage - 10:00 p.m. CT (Kendall Hockey Classic in Anchorage, Alaska)
TV: None, Radio: WIBA 1310 AM (Madison), Stream: WCHA.TV ($$$)

Sunday

Minnesota vs. RPI/Notre Dame - TBD (Ice Breaker in South Bend, Indiana)
TV: None, Radio: 1500 ESPN (Twin Cities), Stream: NBC Live Extra (if Notre Dame), WatchND.TV (if RPI)

Six Things to Watch:

1. This weekend kicks off the 20 game Hockey East/Big Ten Challenge that runs through November 29 and in theory gives Big Ten teams something to play for during the non-conference season that aren't wins or helping out their cause in the Pairwise. The series is evenly split with 10 games being played at Hockey East rinks and 10 at Big Ten rinks. Teams will earn two points for a win, one point for a tie and a bonus point for a road win.

All four guaranteed games featuring B1G-HE teams this weekend will count. (Minnesota could play Notre Dame yet that wouldn't. The games at Mariucci Nov. 7 & 9 are part of the series, though.) Hockey East last season won the inaugural HE-B1G Challenge.

2. Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth open the season against one another far away from the comfort of the "State of Hockey."  The two sister universities are participating in the annual Ice Breaker tournament being played this season in South Bend, Indiana. It's the second time the defending Ice Breaker champs Gophers and UMD have met outside Minnesota. The first, in the 2004 Midwest Regional, saw the Bulldogs win 3-1 and end Minnesota's bid for a third consecutive national championship.

Oddly enough, UMD was the only team to defeat the national runners-up Gophers at Mariucci Arena last season, blowing out Minnesota 6-2. The Bulldogs lost 6-1 two nights prior and with the two teams tying 4-4 on neutral ice at the North Star College Cup championship (which Minnesota won in a shootout), a new year means new bragging rights. (The Gophers also faced the other two teams last season - RPI and host Notre Dame.)

3. Freshman Leon Bristedt will miss both games due to an NCAA decision. The Stockholm, Sweden native twice played with a professional on his J20 Linkoping team. He'll be eligible to return October 24 against Bemidji State.

There are others to score, though. Of the team's top 10 goal scorers, Minnesota only lost Nate Condon from a team that averaged 3.49 goals per game. That number was good for sixth in the nation..

4. The newest team in the Big Ten and college hockey, Penn State, hosts the newest team in Hockey East, Connecticut. PSU was swept in a series last season at Storrs, CT when the Huskies were Atlantic Hockey members.

Winning against UConn would be new for the Nittany Lions, but not the only new thing. As Mary Clarke pointed out, Penn State returns 95% of the team's scoring from last season. In addition, Head Coach Guy Gadowsky will have three impact freshmen at his disposal. Two of them - forward Scott Conway and defenseman Erik Autio - appear to be making an early impact.

5. Ohio State went 3 for 4 on the power play in the Buckeyes' 7-1 exhibition victory Saturday over Guelph with sophomore defenseman Drew Brevig getting points on all three (1G-2A). Success with the man advantage isn't a surprise. Head coach Steve Rohlik's squad led the Big Ten in power play last season, converting 20.37% of the time.

The Buckeyes face its special teams match in Providence and junior goalie Jon Gillies this weekend. PC finished last season third in the nation on the penalty kill. Opposing teams were only able to take advantage of power plays 21 times in 2013-14.

6. Thanks to a series against Northern Michigan played in Green Bay and a two week bye, Wisconsin - traveling nearly 3500 miles to Anchorage - does not open the year at Kohl Center until November 7th. Although it'll swing around in late November-end of January when only one series is on the road, this means the team's 11 true freshmen have a while to wait to make their home debut.

One freshman, 6'6" forward Matt Ustaski, is the second-tallest Badger in team history. To put Ustaski's height in perspective, half the Wisconsin men's basketball team is shorter than him.

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