With the Big Ten hockey tournament semifinals taking place this Saturday, Jason Ruff and Andrew Birkle give their predictions on who will advance to the Big Ten championship game.
Notre Dame vs. Penn State (Compton Family Ice Arena — South Bend, Ind.)
Jason: Penn State has been playing extremely well as of late, with four straight wins against Minnesota. They have made a strong case for their second NCAA tournament bid in as many years. Notre Dame, though, has had a full week to rest, not to mention the fact that they have had plenty of time to think about their latest loss to Michigan State. It’s easy to see Notre Dame coming out flat after an idle week, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Jeff Jackson has a special team on his hands this season, and Notre Dame will take care of business at home before advancing to the Big Ten championship game.
Notre Dame 5, Penn State 3
Andrew: Penn State is never an easy out, especially with their extremely offensive and up-tempo style. The Nittany Lions like to fire the puck at the net as much as possible and see what sticks, so if some bounces go their way, they can be downright unbeatable. However, I think this is going to play right into the hands of Notre Dame, who play very defensively and methodically. With the bye week Notre Dame just had, they should be well rested and well prepared for Penn State. I expect Notre Dame to control the tempo of this game and never let Penn State play their game.
Notre Dame 4, Penn State 2
Ohio State vs Michigan (Nationwide Arena — Columbus, Ohio)
Jason: Boy, if there were any game to solidify Michigan-Ohio State as a legit hockey rivalry, this would be it. One high-stakes playoff game between two very talented teams. Both the Wolverines and Buckeyes are coming off sweeps of their respective opponents in the first round. Both have had solid goaltending in recent weeks in Sean Romeo for Ohio State and Hayden Lavigne for Michigan, both of whom are finalists for Big Ten Goaltender of the Year. Both sides have the ability to score goals, but I think Ohio State’s defense edges out Michigan’s. The Wolverines will have plenty to play for, as they haven’t beaten the Buckeyes yet this season. That said, I’m sticking with the Ohio State; I still think they are the most consistent and well-rounded team in this conference. Things will come down to sudden-death overtime, and in this setting, the Buckeyes prevail on home ice.
Ohio State 4, Michigan 3 (OT)
Andrew: A lot of times across all sports, the semifinal game is actually better than the championship game. Both teams are fighting for the opportunity to advance to the championship game and nothing is spared. I fully expect that to be the case here. Michigan has been the surprise story of the Big Ten all season, consistently overachieving. Everyone knew Michigan was talented, but I don’t think many people thought they would be in this spot already. Both teams are coming off convincing series wins and are playing with a lot of confidence. I believe this game is about as close to a 50/50 game as you can get, but I am going with Michigan continuing to exceed expectations. I believe it will come down to the final minutes and Michigan will just be able to hold on for a win after a last second Ohio State push. Say what you want about whether Michigan and Ohio State are actual hockey rivals, but you can bet your bottom dollar Mel Pearson and Steve Rohlik will have their guys believing this is the biggest rivalry game of their careers.
Michigan 3, Ohio State 2
And there you have it! Puck drop for Notre Dame-Penn State will be at 5:30 p.m. Saturday on ESPNU, while Michigan-Ohio State will begin at 7:30 p.m. on BTN.