2020 Big Ten Hockey Tournament Preview
Host Logan Bourandas and analysts Chris Hess, Jordan Mansberger and Andrew Field dive into the upcoming Big Ten tournament for men's hockey. They look at each first-round matchup and give their predictions for this year's winner.
It’s that time of year for the Big Ten. The conference tournament has arrived. Each team will be fighting until the end for the Big Ten championship. Besides top-seeded Penn State, each team will play a three-game series in the opening round, and the first to win two games moves on. Let’s take a look at what each team brings to the table.
No. 1 Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State clinched its first ever Big Ten regular season championship this season. The Nittany Lions finished the season 20-10-4, 12-8-4 in the conference, with 41 points. Penn State finished the regular season seventh in the PairWise.
This Nittany Lions team is a dominant offensive force that loves to put shots on net. Senior forward Nate Sucese leads the Big Ten in points (38) and became Penn State’s all-time leader this season (140). He also leads the Big Ten in assists (27).
Despite the success, 2020 was an up-and-down year for Penn State. The Nittany Lions once found themselves in a tough stretch that included getting swept by Michigan and Notre Dame.
Speaking of Notre Dame, Penn State is seeking revenge after last year's heartbreaking loss in the Big Ten championship. A key for Penn State will be to minimize turnovers. That’s been a problem all season, and this has allowed other teams to go on odd-man rushes. No matter which team the Nittany Lions play, they’ll need to focus on their transition game.
No. 2 Michigan Wolverines
The Michigan Wolverine are the hottest team coming into the tournament. They are coming off of a huge sweep of Minnesota that placed them into a tie for second in the Big Ten. Michigan finished its season 20-10-4 and 11-10-3 in the conference with 38 points, ranking 16th in the PairWise.
Goaltender Strauss Mann stood on his head in the series against the Golden Gophers. This season, Mann has posted a 1.97 goals-against average, which leads the Big Ten, and a .936 save percentage. Michigan will need its star goalie to remain hot in its three-game series against Michigan State.
The Wolverines’ leading scorer Jake Slaker has 28 points (12 goals, 16 assists), and he can’t plan on slowing down heading into the series against the Spartans. Michigan will need to put shots on John Lethemon and wear him out early since Michigan State focuses so much on its defensive structure.
No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State was another team that was close to first place. However, the Buckeyes fell just short after getting swept by Wisconsin. Ohio State currently ranks 10th in the PairWise, finishing the season 18-11-5, 11-9-1 in conference play, and with 38 points.
Ohio State’s biggest strength is its neutral-zone play. The Buckeyes like to collapse in the neutral zone and give the opposition a difficult time upon entering.
Another reason why Ohio State came so close to first place was star players stepping up. Tanner Lacyznski had 31 points in the regular season, and Quinn Preston led the team with 13 goals.
Ohio State will play Wisconsin in its first series of the tournament, and it will need to focus on offense to put Wisconsin on its heels early.
No. 4 Minnesota Golden Gophers
Down the stretch, Minnesota turned its season around. After being dead last in the Big Ten early on, the Golden Gophers almost won the regular season. However, they were swept by Michigan in the final weekend, leaving them tied for second at 38 points. Minnesota is currently 16th in the PairWise with its 9-8-7-4 record in the Big Ten.
Minnesota is a young team that has a lot of speed. Its star players include Sammy Walker and Scott Reedy. Reedy leads the team with 15 goals, and Walker leads the team with 28 points.
Head Coach Bob Motzko needs to make sure that his team continues to stay disciplined. Minnesota has recorded 6.60 penalty minutes per game, and that’s the best margin in the nation.
The Golden Gophers will play Notre Dame in the first round, and they will need to put shots on goaltender Cale Morris to make him tired early.
No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Notre Dame is looking to defend its tournament championship after defeating Penn State in the title game last year. The Fighting Irish enter the postseason with 37 points, a 14-13-7 overall record and a 9-9-6-4 outing in the conference, currently landing at 19th in the PairWise.
If the Fighting Irish are going to repeat as champions, they will need to rely on star goaltender Cale Morris. Morris tends to do very well in the playoffs. In last year’s postseason, Morris posted a .941 save percentage and a 1.68 goals-against average.
Notre Dame’s firepower comes from Alex Steeves and Cam Morrison, both of whom have 25 points.
Notre Dame is another team that likes to play aggressively. Its defensemen like to pinch at the opposing blue line and make zone entries difficult. This style will be effective against a young Minnesota team.
No. 6 Michigan State Spartans
Toward the end of the season, the Spartans were gunning for a top spot in the Big Ten. But Michigan State finished the year with just 35 points, a 15-17-2 overall record and 11-11-2 mark in conference play. The Spartans are currently sitting at 25th in the PairWise.
Michigan State’s style of play is all about defense. Goaltender John Lethemon was consistent all season long, leading the Big Ten with a .937 save percentage.
On the other hand, the Spartans offense has struggled. This season, Michigan State only scored 80 goals, and this lack of offense led to the Spartans’ downfall in the standings.
Their only offensive talent comes from Patrick Khodorenko. He’s a dynamic forward with good hands and was the only Spartan to reach the 30-point mark. If the Spartans are going to have success against Michigan, they will need others to step up. Players like Tommy Apap and Dennis Cesana will have to contribute more to the offense. Khodorenko can’t do it alone.
No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers’ freshman class didn’t go unnoticed. Cole Caufield, the 15th overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, led the Big Ten with 19 goals. Alex Turcotte, the Los Angeles Kings’ first round pick, had 26 points. With all this firepower, it makes sense that the Badgers were projected to finish third in the Big Ten before the season started. And yet, they finished dead last with only 25 points, sputtering to a 14-18-2 record.
The reason for their struggles was poor goaltending and defense. In the regular season, Wisconsin allowed 3.65 goals per game. The Badgers’ penalty kill was also dead last in the Big Ten at 77%.
Goaltender Daniel Lebedeff went 12-14-0 with a .894 save percentage, and he’s going to have his work cut out for him if the defense continues to struggle against Ohio State this weekend.
Ohio State vs. Wisconsin: Ohio State sweeps 2-0
Michigan vs. Michigan State: Michigan wins series 2-1
Minnesota vs. Notre Dame: Minnesota wins series 2-1
Tournament winner: Penn State
Jacob Cheris is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.