Chances are, your bracket is busted. It’s the most maddening part of March Madness.
For me, the best way to take my mind off of it was the Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. This inaugural tournament was held in St. Paul, Minnesota over March 20-22. Notable teams from the region were present, including Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State.
It was fitting that Minnesota – known as the “State of Hockey” – hosted the first tournament. The Golden Gophers received a first-round bye after securing the first-place spot.
The Great Lakes State had two teams represented in the tournament: University of Michigan and Michigan State University, sitting in third and fifth places, respectively. Unfortunately for the Mitten, neither the Wolverines nor the Spartans would move past the first round.
An afternoon game against No. 6 Penn State saw the Wolverines fall in double overtime. Penn State had been sitting at the bottom of the conference all season, even though they had beaten the nationally-ranked Wolverines twice before the tournament.
Lost on the final score was goaltender Zach Nagelvoort’s 63 saves for the Wolverines, setting a school record. Robbie Moore made 61 against Minnesota in 1973. The Holland, Michigan native’s impressive freshman season is something to bring a smile to Wolverine fans.
Later on, the Spartans faced the fourth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in a game that would have been way too mainstream had it ended in regulation. The two teams had met five times before the tournament. Of those, the Spartans sat 0-2-3. Four of those five meetings ended up going to overtime and three of those went to a shootout.
It was inevitable; the Hockey Gods would not let this game be settled in regulation.
Again, it was a freshman that shined bright for the winning team, this time for Ohio State. The goal was scored off the stick of defenseman Drew Brevig at 4:23 in overtime. By handing the Spartans the loss, the Buckeyes ensured that no team from “The Mitten” would move on.
Despite being ranked first in the tournament and hosting the event, Minnesota failed to hold off the Buckeyes in the second round. Ohio State would best the host Gophers 3-1 in the semifinal. Minnesota had more scoring chances and outshot Ohio State, but the Buckeyes were able to capitalize on their opportunities when it counted most.
Going in to the third period tied at one apiece, the third period held up to the promise of drama. Down 2-1 with just under a minute to go, the Gophers pulled goaltender Adam Wilcox, leaving a wide-open net. Again, the Buckeyes capitalized on taking control of the puck and sealing the game 3-1 off the stick of sophomore Anthony Greco.
Meanwhile, Penn State was unable to hold off the pesky Wisconsin Badgers in round two. Another close game, the Nittany Lions fell 2-1. Sophomore goaltender Matthew Skoff made 32 saves for Penn State,while at the opposite end, Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel made 24. Penn State scored first, but the Badgers fired back just 32 seconds later to get on the board. The second Wisconsin goal came during a powerplay with just 10 seconds left in the middle period.
Rumpel’s efforts helped propel the Badgers to the title game where the winner would get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The final round saw an Ohio State-Wisconsin matchup for the title. Both teams were set on making a huge push for the bid to the NCAA tournament. It was only fitting that the game went to overtime. In the end Wisconsin had the magic touch to hoist the inaugural trophy.
After ending regulation 4-4, the Badgers saw senior Mark Zengerle gain control of a loose puck during overtime and rip it past the Buckeyes’ crease, ending the game and Ohio State’s chance at the automatic bid. It is the second-straight conference title for the Badgers (WCHA Champions in 2013).