Around the Big Ten: Week 1
Sports staff breaks down the opening weekend of Big Ten hockey:
With the College Hockey season opening this week, the teams in the Big Ten look stronger than ever in 2018-19. Five teams from the conference are ranked in the preseason top-20 in the most recent USCHO Division 1 Men’s Hockey Poll, and it looks like it’s going to be another big year for the Big Ten.
A Look Back:
In 2017-18, Notre Dame ran away with the conference. The Fighting Irish finished the season with a 17-6-1 record and were the regular season champions. Ohio State finished second at 14-8-2. Penn State finished fourth in the Big Ten with a 9-10-5 record. Although it beat Minnesota in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament, the Nittany Lions fell to Notre Dame in the semifinals 3-2. Notre Dame ended up winning the Big Ten Tournament with a 3-2 victory over Ohio State.
Four Big Ten teams made the NCAA Tournament last season (Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, and Penn State). Penn State was the only team out of the four to get knocked out in the first round. The Nittany Lions for the second straight year couldn’t get by the Denver Pioneers losing 5-1.
Although Penn State got knocked out in round one, the other three Big Ten teams made the Frozen Four. Ironically, the only non-Big Ten team to make the Frozen Four was the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs, which won the National Championship. The Bulldogs held off the Buckeyes in the semifinal 2-1, and went on to win the National Championship over the Fighting Irish 2-1 as well. With three out of four teams making the Frozen Four in the Big Ten, it shows how elite the conference is in hockey.
Notre Dame goalie Cale Morris dominated all year. In 37 games last year he finished with a 27-8-1 record with four shutouts. Morris won the Big Ten Player of the year award, becoming the first Notre Dame player to win it and the 3rd goalie ever to win the award in the five-year history of the league.
Coming into the 2018-19 season, Ohio State and Notre Dame are ranked No.1 and No. 2 in the most recent USCHO Division 1 Men’s Hockey Poll. Three other Big Ten Teams are in the top 20 and two in the top 10. Michigan and Minnesota are ranked No. 6 and No. 9, and Penn State comes into this season ranked No. 16.
The ninth-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers come in with an impressive start to the season by defeating the defending National Champions Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs 7-4 Saturday after tying them 1-1 in Friday’s game. Sophomore forward Brannon McManus had two goals in the game on Saturday and looks ready to have a strong season. Minnesota plays an exhibition game against Team USA 18U Team this weekend.
No. 1 Ohio State opens its season with a two-game series against Arizona State in Tempe this weekend. The Sun Devils went 8-21-5 last year but were very competitive against some good teams. They will be incredibly excited to have a chance at the number one team in the country.
No. 2 Notre Dame plays in a tournament this weekend at Mercyhurst in Erie. Mercyhurst lost its opener last weekend at home to Bowling Green 8-2. If the Fighting Irish win that game, it could set up for a big-time game Saturday against No. 4 Providence. The Friars play unranked Miami, OH on Friday night and we could have a dandy on Saturday if both teams win on Friday.
No. 6 Michigan lost their opener 5-2 to Vermont last weekend in Ann Arbor despite putting 50 shots on goal. On Saturday, the Wolverines won an exhibition game vs. Waterloo. Another exhibition game against the US Men’s National Team Developmental Team is on schedule for the Wolverines this weekend.
Michigan State opened with an exhibition game against Canadian College of Windsor winning 3-1. This weekend it will play twice at home against a Northern Michigan team that went 25-15-3 last year and finished second in the WCHA. The Spartans finished with a 13-20-2 last year and finished last in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin also won an exhibition game last weekend beating Victoria 8-2. The competition steps up big time with No. 12 Boston College coming to Madison for two games this weekend. The Badgers finished 14-19-3 last season so this early game will be a tough test to see if they will improve this season.
Penn State won its exhibition game this past weekend against Brock University in Happy Valley Saturday night. This week, the Nittany Lions get a big test right off the bat with No.17 Clarkson coming into town for a two-game set. Clarkson is a legitimate program posting a 23-10-6 record last year. Clarkson made the NCAA Tournament last year where it lost to Providence 1-0. Penn State junior goaltender Peyton Jones needs to get off to a hot start in 2018 and has a great opportunity to do so against a solid team like Clarkson.
The 2018-19 Big Ten Hockey Preseason Watch List is loaded with stars. Tyler Sheehy of Minnesota and Cale Morris of Notre Dame are returning players that have previously won Big Ten Player of the year. Penn State junior forwards Nate Sucese and Denis Smirnov were the Penn State representatives on this list. Last season the duo combined for 29 goals and 27 assists. They will be vital for Penn State’s offense this season.
Penn State is also looking for major contributions from senior forward Captain Chase Berger (11G, 16A – 27 pts). Junior forward Brandon Biro and senior defenseman Kevin Kerr will serve as alternate captains for Penn State this year. Biro started strong scoring two goals in the win against Brock. He was the Nittany Lions second-leading scorer last season (9G, 22A – 31 pts) behind Andrew Sturtz, who signed a contract with the Ottawa Senators after last season ended. Kerr finished second on the team in plus-minus last year at +12 and he will need to lead the unit this year as the only senior on the back line.
Awesome matchups are upcoming this weekend in the Big Ten for hockey with a bunch of teams playing strong non-conference opponents. Let’s see how the teams in the Big Ten respond against some of the best teams in college hockey outside the conference.
Matthew McClure is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.