Thursday, January 3, 2013

1° Below Freezing: Quick Hits In B1G Hockey

By Jessi Pierce

Happy New Year folks. For most of our Big Ten teams, 2013 means not just a new year, but hope for a turnaround on the season at its halfway point. Here's what's happening with our favorite teams and players.

° U-S-A! U-S-A! — In case you weren't awake at 4 a.m. this morning to check in on the World Junior Championship tournament rivalry match-up between Team USA and Canada in Ufa, Germany, well, you missed quite a lot. University of Wisconsin stud and the U.S. National Junior Team's Captain, Jake McCabe notched two past USA's hockey foes in a 5-1 romping to advance the red, white and blue to the gold medal game on Saturday. Team USA's roster boasts not only McCabe, but includes Jacob Trouba (University of Michigan) and Mike Reilly (University of Minnesota) representing Big Ten teams. Here is what United States of Hockey's Chris Peters had to say about each of their play in the big win Thursday morning.

"Jake McCabe — Team USA’s captain was named the player of the game and he deserves it. A force at both ends of the ice, his two goals in the first period set the tone for the game and allowed the U.S. to take control. Both goals were aided by net-front presence and screens, but McCabe’s shot was on the money on both occasions. Those were two high-pressure goals and the captain delivered. McCabe as also terrific in his own end, shutting down opposing forwards and aiding the transition with good up-ice passing."

"Jacob Trouba — Trouba brought some physicality, but he also showed off the skill that has made him the tournament’s top-scoring defender. He very well could end up as the directorate award winner for the tournament’s best defenseman with the way he’s played. Trouba has been the most consistent guy from start to finish for the Americans and has affected the game at both ends of the ice. His development over the last two years has been something else."

"Mike Reilly — Reilly deserves a lot of credit for his role on Team USA’s first goal. He helped spark the transition to get players down ice and then earned an assist by getting the puck near the net and following the play. He’s an offensively gifted player and he has been able to show that a lot more the last three games."

I couldn't agree more with Peters' assessment on not only those three players, but all of Team USA's performance throughout the tournament and this morning; especially goaltender John Gibson who shut down the Canadians in all three periods of play. Take a peek at some of the highlights and see for yourself.

° Gophers back on top — After completely handling former USCHO No. 1 and defending national champions, Boston College in the Mariucci Classic last Sunday with an 8-1 score, the Minnesota Gophers find themselves in the No. 1 spot before heading into arguably a much tougher second half of the season. Upcoming contests with Notre Dame, North Dakota, Denver and St. Cloud State among other teams will be a test for the maroon and gold, but after witnessing the depth of each line this past weekend, I see Minnesota holding tight to that top spot for a few weeks yet. Interesting note, Minnesota is the only Big Ten team to be ranked in this week's USCHO poll. More on that below. 

° Michigan's Treais suspended one game — In another holiday tournament, Michigan and Michigan State battled it out in the CCHA's Great Lakes Invitational third place game, possibly a bit too physical. Wolverines captain and senior forward A.J. Treais was handed a one game suspension following Michigan's win over the Spartans for what the CCHA said was Treais' contact to MSU's Matt DeBlouw's head. Here is what the CCHA said in an official release:

"Senior forward A.J. Treais of the University of Michigan has been suspended for one (1) game. The action was taken by the league after a review of an incident that occurred near the 17:28 mark of the third period in a game against Michigan State and resulted in the player receiving major and game misconduct penalties for Contact to the Head."

The suspension will cause Treais to miss Michigan's next regular season game against Bowling Green on Jan. 8 but will be eligible to play against the NTDP in exhibition Friday. One game isn't all that bad — and to be honest neither was the hit, definitely not intentional head to head contact — but the Wolverines need all they can to pick themselves up heading into the second half of their schedule.

° Big Ten struggles continue — Not only do the Gophers garner the No. 1 spot in the nation, but Minnesota is the only Big Ten team above .500 this regular season with a 13-3-3 record overall. Ohio State holds a 7-8-5 record, Penn State is at 8-9, Michigan is holding a 7-10-2 record, Michigan State going 5-11-3 and Wisconsin rounding out the pack with a grim 4-7-5 record.

Time still remains in the season to turn some things around for all the teams, but it doesn't exactly speak well for the Big Ten hockey conference. For more on the break down, check out Roman Augustoviz column in the Star Tribune.

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