2022 Men’s Hockey Big Ten Tournament Preview

Story posted March 3, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Joshua Bartosik

March has arrived and that means one thing: The Big Ten Tournament is here.

This weekend marks the beginning of the ninth annual Big Ten Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament. The tournament begins with three best-of-three quarterfinals series between seeds two through seven in the standings and will crown a champion on March 19.

The top seed going into the tournament is the reigning champs from the last campaign, Minnesota. Minnesota is led by junior Ben Meyers’ team-leading 15 goals and 34 points. The Golden Gophers are stacked with talent, including the likes of Blake McLaughlin, Jackson LaCombe and star freshman forward Matthew Knies.

The main question mark leading into the tournament for Minnesota is goaltending. Former Mike Richter Award winner Jack Lafontaine left halfway through the season to sign a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes, leaving junior Justen Close to take the reins.

While Close has posted very respectable numbers with a 1.73 goals against average and a .933 save percentage, his spotty rebound control has caused several people to question his abilities coming into the tournament.

The second-seeded Michigan Wolverines are expected to make a deep run in the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament. Four of the first five picks in last year's NHL draft play for the Wolverines, and they have continued to make their presence known.

Second overall pick Matty Beniers finished atop the Big Ten in points with 37 and fifth overall pick Kent Johnson led the Big Ten with 24 assists alongside first overall pick Owen Power.

Buffalo Sabres prospect Erik Portillo defended the crease for the Wolverines this season, posting a 2.14 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

Michigan is loaded with NHL-caliber talent, and anything less than a Big Ten Tournament trophy should be considered a bust for Mel Pearson’s squad. They open up the tournament with a series against in-state rivals Michigan State.

Michigan State once again comes into the tournament as the lowest seed. Similar to last season, the Spartans relied heavily on a stout defense that blocked 492 shots this season, good for second in the Big Ten, but struggled yet again to score goals.

The middle of the pack is led by third-seeded Notre Dame and fourth-seeded Ohio State.

Notre Dame is not a very flashy squad but they are a well-oiled machine on the back end, leading the Big Ten with only 2.06 goals against per game.

This is largely in part due to Cornell transfer Matthew Galajda, who finished second in save percentage and goals against average in the Big Ten. His outstanding goaltending will play a major factor in their opening series against sixth-seeded Wisconsin, a team averaging a Big Ten worst 2.03 goals per game.

Wisconsin had a huge dropoff from last season, in large part due to the loss of star forward Cole Caufield. They were led by freshman defenseman Corson Ceulemans with only 20 points this season.

Ohio State is by far the most surprising team in this year’s tournament. The Buckeyes relied heavily on their freshmen talent this season, with Georgii Merkulov leading the Big Ten in scoring and guys like Mason Lohrei and Cam Thiesing finishing top four on the team in points.

Ohio State was led in net by star freshman goaltender Jakub Dobeś. The 6-foot-4 netminder finished third in the Big Ten in save percentage and fifth in goals against average.

The Buckeyes find themselves matched up against the fifth-seeded Nittany Lions in what is most likely the best opening-round series in the tournament this year.

As for the Nittany Lions, this season was a rebuilding year that showed flashes of brilliance.

Penn State was led once again by Kevin Wall, who led the team with 15 goals and 28 points and the emergence of freshman forward Ryan Kirwan, who finished third on the team with 11 goals.

The blue and white were not as successful on the blue line, with an extremely inefficient transition game and a mind-boggling two-goalie system that garnered very mixed results. If Guy Gadowsky’s group can’t play a smooth two-way game, the Buckeyes will end the series in an instant.

Will the Golden Gophers repeat? Or will another squad find a way to dethrone them? It’s anyone’s guess as the tournament kicks off in full force this Friday.

Joshua Bartosik is a first-year student majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email joshbartosik13@gmail.com.