The term ‘March Madness’ is synonymous with collegiate basketball. However, the term goes beyond the hardwood and onto the ice. Last weekend, teams from the Big Ten Conference and Western Collegiate Hockey (WCHA) Association battled it out to see who was going to move one step closer to a conference title.
(2) Ohio State Moves Passed (7) Wisconsin
The second-best team in the Big Ten Conference this season was the Ohio State Buckeyes. Finishing just three points out of first in the regular season, the Buckeyes wanted to make quick work of the underdog Wisconsin Badgers, a team that swept the Buckeyes in the final weekend of the regular season in Columbus.
It looked like a one-sided series after the Buckeyes won game one, 9-1, but the Badgers made things interesting in game two by forcing overtime. Jaedan Leslie’s fourth goal of the season early into overtime placed the Buckeyes one win away from the Big Ten Championship Game.
Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2017 pick Carson Meyer scored six points in the sweep, including a four-goal performance in game one, while Quinn Preston picked up a pair of goals and a pair of assists in the two-game series.
(4) Minnesota Goes the Distance Against (5) Notre Dame
The two middle seeds of the tournament went head-to-head as the Minnesota Golden Gophers took on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Gophers were confident going into the series after winning three of the four meetings during the regular season.
However, it was Notre Dame who took game one after holding Minnesota to 12 shots en route to a 1-0 win. The Gophers bounced back to tie the series with a 3-2 win in game two, before knocking off the Irish in a tense game three that saw Minnesota skate away with the 2-1 win.
Freshman Ben Meyers was the hero in game two, scoring a pair of goals, including the eventual game-winner, while leading-scorer, and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, Sammy Walker helped out with a trio of assists. The MVP of the series was Gophers netminder Jack LaFontaine who stopped 73 of 79 shots.
(3) Michigan’s Turnaround Continues in Sweep Over (6) Michigan State
Until the New Year, the Michigan Wolverines were struggling with the worst winning percentage in the Big Ten (.400), ranked 46th of the 60 Division 1 programs. However, in 2020, they found their stride with a 9-4-2 record in the second semester to finish as the third seed in the Big Ten heading into the conference tournament.
They faced their longtime in-state rivals, the Michigan State Spartans, a team that swept the Wolverines in mid-November before Big Blue returned the favour last month.
The Wolverines made quick work of the Spartans in Ann Arbor, sweeping Michigan State in the best-of-three series with a pair of 3-0 victories. Jake Slaker, who led the Wolverines in scoring during the regular season, and Boston Bruins prospect Johnny Beecher scored in each win at the historic Yost Ice Arena, with Nick Pastujov tallying a goal and an assist.
One of the top goaltenders in the second half of the season has been Strauss Mann. The Greenwich, Connecticut-native continued his impressive season with a pair of shutouts, stopping all of the Spartans’ 25 shots in game one, followed up by a 20-save performance in game two.
The one-game playoff that will determine who meets for the Big Ten Championship will be this weekend. After earning a bye in the first round, the no. 7 team in the nation, the Penn State Nittany Lions, will take on the Gophers on Saturday the 14th, while Michigan and Ohio State will renew their rivalry on Sunday afternoon.
(1) Minnesota State Makes Quick Work of (8) Alaska-Anchorage
The no. 3 team in the country also finished with the best record in the WCHA. The Mavericks made quick work of the Seawolves with a pair of convincing victories. Minnesota State scored three goals in the first and third periods of game one, with a pair in the middle frame for an 8-1 win. The Seawolves had more fight in game two, scoring the first goal of the game, and tied the game in the third after the Mavericks came back to take the lead in the third.
Minnesota State avoided any scare, as Jake Jaremko scored with a little over five minutes remaining in regulation. Dallas Gerads’ empty-netter put the icing on the cake to send the Mavericks to the quarterfinals.
Mavericks’ leading scorer Marc Michaelis picked up a goal and four assists in the weekend set, while Winnipeg Jets prospect Nathan Smith earned two goals and an assist in the sweep. Reggie Lutz had a productive series, scoring a goal and an assist in each game.
(2) Bemidji State Grinds Through (7) Lake Superior State
The Bemidji State Beavers were the odds-on favourite against the Lake Superior State Lakers and were expected to make quick work of LSSU after a 2-0 win in game one off Zach Driscoll’s 27-save shutout. However, the Lakers bounced back in game two and scored two goals just 13 seconds apart in the first to give them a lead they would never relinquish.
In the decisive game three, Bemidji State went ahead 2-0 before the halfway mark of the contest. The Lakers made things interesting by bringing the game within one, but the Beavers breathed a sigh of relief after Owen Sillinger’s empty-net goal sealed the deal. (from ‘MEN’S HOCKEY: Driscoll, Sillinger earn WCHA awards; Beavers climb to No. 13,’ Bemidji Pioneer, 02/17/2020)
Adam Brady, who led the Beavers in scoring during the regular season, helped Bemidji with two goals and an assist in the series, while Sillinger led the team with two goals and two assists.
(5) Bowling Green Knocks Off (4) Alaska
One year after their first NCAA Tournament appearance in almost three decades, the Bowling Green State Falcons began their quest back to the dance against the upstart Alaska Nanooks.
Game one was tied at one heading into the third period before the Falcons scored thrice to pick up a 4-2 win. Game two was the same through 40 minutes, before Will Cullen and TJ Lloyd scored just over a minute apart in the third. The Falcons held on for a 3-2 win to complete the sweep.
Vegas Golden Knights’ 2018 Draft pick Brandon Kruse tallied five assists in the two games, while Max Richards and Tim Theocharidis each had a goal and two assists over the weekend.
(6) Michigan Tech Stuns (3) Northern Michigan
In a battle between teams from the Upper Peninsula, the Northern Michigan Wildcats were the higher seed, but with only one win of the four meetings against the Michigan Tech Huskies during the regular season.
The Wildcats struck first in game one, but the Huskies took over, scoring four unanswered goals, including a natural hat trick from Tommy Parrottino, to take the game. Neither team scored in the opening 20 minutes of game two, but an offensive flurry from both teams in the middle stanza saw the Wildcats take a 3-2 lead into the third period. However, just over two minutes into the final frame, Logan Ganie scored his second of the game to force overtime.
After 40 scoreless minutes, Logan Pietila played the hero with a goal in the third overtime to knock off the Wildcats and send the Huskies to the semifinals.
Pietila tallied two goals and three assists in the series, and Parrottino scored four goals over the weekend. Matt Jurusik made 77 saves in his 2.5 hours of work between the pipes over two games.
The Mavericks will take on Michigan Tech, the lowest seed remaining, with Bemidji State hosting Bowling Green in the two best-of-three series that start on March 13. The winners will have the right to play for the Jeff Sauer WCHA Championship Trophy.
I’m a broadcast journalist from West Michigan, with an incredible passion for the game of hockey. After playing in goal for 16 years, I realized that my time on the ice was up, and chose a slightly different path working in the media. It is just as demanding, just a little less physical.