The Current Landscape of Big Ten Hockey Approaching the Postseason
Three huge series upcoming this weekend. Wisconsin at Notre Dame, Penn State at Michigan State, Minnesota at Ohio State. For the first time all season, we might see some serious seperation in the Big Ten standings for the first time this season. Kyle Canillo, Andre Magaro and Matt McClure discuss this week's upcoming Big Ten hockey lineup:
The Big Ten, what many are calling the “most competitive conference in college hockey,” is certainly living up to its expectations. While the rest of the Big Ten is in a dog fight, Ohio State is calmly minding its own business out in front. There are some monumental series this upcoming weekend that have huge implications for both the Big Ten standings and the NCAA pairwise poll. With so much on the line, we take a look at these three Big Ten matchups:
Wisconsin at Notre Dame
Following an odd Tuesday night matchup, Notre Dame sdefeated Michigan convincingly to help springboard them into NCAA tournament conversation. The Fighting Irish defeated the Wolverines 5-2 on home ice, moving them up two positions in the pairwise to No. 16. Next up on their schedule is the struggling Wisconsin Badgers.
Wisconsin, who is dead last in the Big Ten, is still within striking distance. They sit just two regulation wins back from third in the Big Ten, which would put them in position for home ice during the tournament. In order to turn their season around, a sweep is an necessity.
The key factor in this series will be special teams. While Notre Dame’s powerplay is a respectable 16th in the nation, Wisconsin’s penalty kill finds themselves second to last in the entire NCAA. Notre Dame is simply the better hockey team; they play with structure and transition from defense to offense as good as any.
Prediction: Notre Dame sweep
Penn State at Michigan State
This weekend, Penn State will travel to East Lansing, Michigan for the first time this season to take on the Michigan State Spartans.
For Michigan State, it’s the Taro Hirose show. Hirose is, what many are calling, the best player in college hockey. There is no question the undrafted junior has raised eyebrows across the nation. In 30 games this season, Hirose has recorded a NCAA-best 47 points and has separated himself from the rest of the pack.
Michigan State’s most noticeable weakness lies in their defense. Similar to Penn State, Michigan State’s defense has quite frankly been atrocious. They are tied for eighth in the NCAA with 104 goals against. In addition, Michigan State finds themselves in the bottom 10 on the penalty kill in the NCAA.
In contrast, the Nittany Lions are hot and rolling again. Breakout performances from Penn State’s Nate Sucese and Evan Barratt have steered this team into a positive direction.
There are high expectations for the Nittany Lions to maintain home ice advantage throughout most of the Big Ten Tournament and punch their ticket to the NCAA playoffs. They currently sit at fifth in the Big Ten standings and 17th in the national pairwise poll. In order to do so, a sweep is essential. While winning on the road will be tough, the expectation is they get the job done.
Prediction: Penn State sweep.
Minnesota at Ohio State
It's no secret that Minnesota and its diehard fan base are fed up with how this season is going. Once again, the “State of Hockey” travelled to “Hockey Valley” and got straight up embarrassed in every facet of the game. It was a brutal beatdown for a team, that coming into the weekend, controlled their own destiny in both the NCAA and the Big Ten tournaments. Now they face Ohio State, the best in the Big Ten and third in the nation.
Ohio State, on the other hand, has a comfortable lead on the rest of the Big Ten teams and have serious ambitions to compete for the national championship. They are by far the most well-rounded team in the Big Ten and among the top in nearly every statistical category. Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik runs a very structured system. Their style of hockey makes it very difficult to play against. The Buckeyes make zone entries hard, finish their checks and make the most of their opportunities.
Is it possible Minnesota can pull off a major upset on the road and steal a victory? Yes. Is it likely? No.
Prediction: Ohio State sweep.
With just three weekends remaining until tournament play begins, every goal matters. If the favorites sweep this weekend, the Big Ten will see clear separation for the first time this season. However if history repeats itself, these highly contested series will end in more splits.
Kyle Cannillo is a freshman at Penn State University studying journalism. To contact him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.