Men’s Hockey Around the Big Ten
Joe Esquivel-Murphy, Ben Ferree and Brian McLaughlin preview all of this week's action on the ice across the Big Ten.
All seven Big Ten schools will be in action this upcoming weekend, including two conference series between Ohio State at Notre Dame, and Michigan State at Minnesota.
Here is this week’s look at each Big Ten team:
No. 5 Minnesota:
The Golden Gophers come off an exciting non-conference series at No. 4 North Dakota last weekend. Minnesota took the first game, 2-1, and then was shut out 4-0 the following night. Eric Schierhorn continues to shine in net, posting 34 saves on Friday night. Saturday was not one of his stronger outings, but the junior goaltender out of Anchorage, Alaska continues to prove himself as one of the top goaltenders in the nation. Last year’s Big Ten Player of the Year and First Team All-American nominee, Tyler Sheehey, has not gotten into his typical groove so far this season. However, Rem Pitlick and Casey Mittelstadt have stepped up. The Golden Gophers will once again be the favorite to win the Big Ten, but they have scored more than three goals just once so far this season. They will have to find a way to get the offense rolling as Big Ten play begins to pick up the pace.
No. 7 Wisconsin:
Second-year head coach Tony Granato led a remarkable turnaround for Wisconsin last year, nearly leading them to the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers have built on last year’s success with a 6-3-0 start and are the second-highest scoring team in the conference. They split at home with a solid St. Lawrence team and will have another big series at home this weekend against No. 4 North Dakota. Trent Frederic and Will Johnson are both tied for fourth in the Big Ten with 10 points each so far. Ryan Wagner and Seamus Malone are also off to hot starts of their own. We will find out just how good the Badgers really are after this weekend.
No. 11 Notre Dame:
The addition of Notre Dame to the Big Ten has given the conference one more highly competitive perennial program to strengthen its overall quality. Despite the No. 11 ranking, it has not been the smoothest start for the Irish, as they dropped a game to Sacred Heart and then split with Nebraska-Omaha last weekend. They have been a well-oiled machine offensively though, as they are the highest scoring team in the conference. Jake Evans leads the Big Ten in points with 15, while Jordan Gross and Bobby Nardella have already eclipsed double figures as well. The Irish will be on the road for a series against Ohio State this weekend, their first one as a Big Ten member.
No. 16 Ohio State:
The Buckeyes were one of the highest scoring teams in the nation last season and are off to a 5-1-2 start after winning their last four games. They swept UMass and Robert Morris in their last two weekend series and will have a big one this weekend against Notre Dame at home. Ohio State has not scored at the same rate this year, but they are leading the conference in goals allowed at just 1.50 per game. Forwards Tanner Laczynski and Mason Jobst are always dangerous with the puck. We’ll see if they can propel the Buckeyes to a pair of victories this weekend.
No. 17 Penn State:
The reigning Big Ten champions were looking to have a huge year after last season’s unexpected run. However, the Nittany Lions have really struggled with consistency out of the gates. They have split all three of their series so far, and suffered an embarrassing overtime loss to a previously winless AIC team two weeks ago. They are dead last in scoring defense in the Big Ten, and they have not scored with the same productivity as they did last year. They split with Michigan last weekend but needed to go to overtime to steal one from the Wolverines. Penn State has a home series against Mercyhurst this weekend, which should be an easy sweep on paper, but the Nittany Lions need to start playing to the level they’re capable of if they are to build on last year’s successful season.
It was a disappointing season for the Wolverines last year, but they are off to a 4-2 start and look much improved under new head coach Mel Pearson. They split last their series with Penn State on the road last weekend but probably should have won both games. The Wolverines are an excellent defensive team as they rank third in the conference in goals allowed and second in penalty kill percentage. Cooper Marody, Josh Norris, and Jake Slaker lead a talented young team that will look to be a potential sleeper in the conference this year. They will host Ferris State at home this weekend and look to continue their solid start.
The Spartans finished last in the Big Ten a year ago, but they also seem to be improved early on this year. They swept Lake Superior State at home last weekend and picked up a quality win in their series against Western Michigan, who made the NCAA Tournament last season, a couple weeks ago. The Spartans are averaging 3.50 goals per game but have been just mediocre defensively. Mitchell Lewandowski and Taro Hirose are off to hot starts with nine points each. Michigan State will be on the road at Minnesota this weekend for a two-game series.
Will Desautelle is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.