Around the Big Ten: Men’s Hockey
Matt McClure, Nate Pullen and Christopher Hess preview this week's slate of Big Ten Hockey action:
Another exciting weekend of hockey awaits the Big Ten conference. It is currently a log jam in one of the sport’s most competitive conferences, with just five points separating third from last place.
With only Ohio State comfortably sitting inside the NCAA tournament field, the remaining six teams will be looking for every resume-boosting win they can get. Most teams hope to improve their seeding for the upcoming Big Ten tournament, trying to steal a conference title and an automatic berth to the national stage.
Ohio State at Wisconsin
Ohio State has been in cruise control this season. Currently ranked at No.3 in the PairWise, it would take a monumental collapse for the Buckeyes to not make their third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
The Buckeyes impressive defensive unit of goaltending tandem Sean Romeo and Tommy Nappier was on display once again this past weekend against Notre Dame, conceding only twice through the two contests.
It could be a long weekend for Wisconsin. The Badgers take a Big Ten leading 12.5 penalty minutes per game and are going up against one of the most structured power plays in the conference at a clip of plus-22. Wisconsin also has the worst penalty kill in the Big Ten, keeping the opposition off the board only 71.6 percent of the time.
Michigan State at Michigan
Don’t look now, but here comes Michigan State. A team long thought to be dead in the water has burst to life in the second half of the season. This late resurgence has seen them shoot all the way up to No.22 in the PairWise. The Spartans travel to Ann Arbor this weekend, to take on a Michigan team hanging on by a thread to its hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State’s impressive recovery was largely due to the production of its infamous K-H-L line. The trio of Patrick Khodorenko, Taro Hirose and Mitchell Lewandowski have combined to contribute 24 of the Spartans’ 35 goals in the 2019 calendar year.
Michigan State is still a long way from being in position to make the NCAA tournament, but they will certainly be a handful for plenty of teams down the stretch.
Michigan defenseman Quinn Hughes must lead his unit in shutting down the deadly Spartan attack if the Wolverines are going to have any hope this weekend. Michigan will also have revenge on the mind, as Michigan State swept the Wolverines in East Lansing earlier this season.
Minnesota at Penn State
Pegula Ice Arena in University Park will be home to the most pivotal Big Ten clash of the weekend. Both Penn State and Minnesota are on the bubble when it comes to the NCAA tournament, however, the Nittany Lions and Golden Gophers must find consistency in their play if either one wants to qualify.
Minnesota is coming off a disappointing weekend split at home to Michigan. This may be the wrong time for the Gophers to return to a building in which they went 0-4 last season.
However, Minnesota poses the threat of a very capable offense. The Golden Gophers have averaged 4.5 goals per game in the past two weeks. Rem Pitlick and Tyler Sheehy have led the way, with both forwards eclipsing 30 points and ranking top 10 in the Big Ten scoring race.
This could pose as trouble for a Penn State defensive unit which has been susceptible all season, allowing a conference high 3.77 goals per game.
Although, the Nittany Lions have a juggernaut offense of their own. Penn State has averaged a Big Ten best 4.5 goals per game all season – over a goal better than any other team.
Forward Evan Barratt, who paved the way for the Nittany Lions earlier this season, is coming off a much-needed bye week. Barratt saw production decline after missing the team’s first bye week to participate in the IIHF World Junior Championships with Team USA. Expect the forward to possibly regain his stellar form this weekend.
There could be many goals on the board by the end of this matchup. Both teams will be poised to make a statement and sweep the weekend set.
For Notre Dame, the bye week has come calling at the right time. The offensive production just has not been there to support a solid defensive unit, averaging less than 2.4 goals per game in its last eight contests. The Fighting Irish hope to right the ship on Tuesday when they host Michigan.
There is certainly more hockey to be played in the Big Ten, but the desperation is growing stronger for several teams as the weeks go on.
Andre Magaro is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.