Six teams will compete in the Big Ten hockey tournament, which begins this Thursday in Detroit, Michigan at the Joe Louis Arena. No. 3 Ohio State takes on the low seed No. 6 Michigan State, followed by No. 4 Penn State versus No. 5 Michigan. The No. 1 Minnesota Golden Gophers await the winner of the the 4/5 game, while the No. 2 Wisconsin Badgers will face the winner of OSU vs. MSU.
#3 Ohio State vs. #6 Michigan State
The Buckeyes are hot, coming off their third straight win to close out the season. They have been 8-3-0 in their last 11 games, scoring four goals or more in eight of those contests.
Their top two goalies, Matt Tomkins and and Christian Frey, have a combined .910 save percentage and 2.78 goals allowed average. Tomkins is 11-3-3 on the season and has only allowed 17 goals at even strength through 19 games played.
Another standout for the Buckeyes this year has been forward Mason Jobst. He has 51 points on the season and has four goals and five assists in his last four games.
The Spartans, on the other hand, have struggled lately, dropping six of their final eight games. Their one win in that stretch was a close one against Ohio State, a game in which the Spartans amassed five goals for only the fourth time this season.
Mason Appleton and Taro Hirose lead the team in scoring with 30 and 24 points respectively. Hirose only has two points in his team’s last five games. Appleton has five in that stretch, netting one goal to go along with four assist. His goal against Minnesota in the season finale was his first in nearly a month.
Goaltending and defense has not been great either as of late. The Spartans have allowed four or more goals in six of their last seven games, all but one resulting in a loss.
Ohio State seems to have the edge in this matchup both offensively and defensively. Expect Tomkins and Jobst to bring the heat, as the Buckeyes should have no problem defeating the last place Spartans.
#4 Penn State vs. #5 Michigan
Penn State has been one of the best teams in college hockey this season. Ranked #1 in the country at one point, the Nittany Lions have put together an impressive resume, especially in non-conference games.
Michigan has had some serious up and down stretches this year. The Wolverines lost or tied six straight before winning four of their last five to close out the season. Two of those victories are especially significant as they came against PSU. The Wolverines won 3-2 and 4-0 to hand Penn State their third loss in four games, a rough ending to a very solid campaign.
Despite that final series, if you are looking for a fast-skating, high-scoring team, you need not look further than Penn State. The Nittany Lions have had no problems scoring goals this year, averaging four goals per game, top marks in the Big Ten. They are led by freshman forward Denis Smirnov, who leads the team with 43 points, and senior forward David Goodwin, who added 35 points of his own. Andrew Sturtz has also been great, scoring 21 goals to lead the team in that category.
Michigan has a more balanced attack, with eight players at or above 14 points, and none over 30.
Three goalies have split nearly even time for the Wolverines, all with save percentages above .910, but none with goals allowed averages of less than 2.75.
Despite having solid goaltenders, Michigan’s subpar offense and lack of depth on the back end will simply leave them outmatched, and Penn State will get more than enough shots to the net to win the game handily.
Another season, same story.
The Golden Gophers are a top notch program in NCAA hockey year in and year out and this season was no different. The Big Ten champions have now taken home their six titles in as many years, and look to wreak more havoc in the tournament.
Led by Tyler Sheehy and Justin Kloos, the Gophers averaged an impressive 3.8 goals per game, and held their opponents to a measly 2.7. Sheehy and Kloos went for 52 and 42 points respectively, the most efficient duo in the Big Ten.
Goaltender Eric Schierhorn was also a star for Minnesota, posting a .906 save percentage and allowed 2.60 goals per game. The Alaskan native was named Big Ten Goaltender of the Year for the second time in as many years.
There’s a lot that can be said about this Minnesota team, all of which should be a warning to the rest of the league. This is a dangerous team that can, and likely will, make a run to the Frozen Four.
The Badgers have had a major turnaround year after posting losing records in each of their last two seasons. Offense has been phenomenal at times, and when it hasn’t, goaltending has often bailed the team out.
Big Ten Rookie of the Year Trent Frederic has played great all season, despite sitting some time out with injuries. He has 33 points in 28 games, and leads the team in shot percentage, nailing 20% of his attempts at the net.
Luke Kunin has also played great this year. The Minnesota Wild first round pick has scored 21 goals, nine on the power play, and leads the team with 36 points. The offense has been a great point of success this year.
“We need to score goals,” head coach Tony Granato told the media Monday. “Our team all year has won because we’ve scored goals. We’ve started games well, we’ve taken leads, we’ve taken control of games by being aggressive offensively.”
Kunin, Frederic and junior defenseman Jake Linhart were all honored by the Big Ten with selections to the All-Big Ten Second Team and are big reasons for the Badgers’ continued success offensively.
Goalie Jack Berry has also been solid this season and got an honorable mention for his 2.84 goals allowed average and .892 save percentage. Berry has kept the Badgers in many games this year that would have had a different outcome had he not been there.
Big Ten Coach of the Year Tony Granato has also been a big success story for the Badgers. He is happy where the team is at, but still thinks there is work to be done.
“I think what we’ve done so far this year has been respectable but the job’s not done,” said Granato on Monday. “We set a goal to get to the NCAA tournament and we still have the opportunity to do that. That’s what we’re looking forward to…But it’s important for us to stay focused. We’re still playing, we’ve still got a big weekend in front of us and we’re still in a pretty good position.”
For some of the younger players, this is a new opportunity, and for the organization, it is on more successful than we have seen in recent years.
“We’ll have fun with the experience,” Granato said. “But we’re going there to win a game on Friday and get ready to win a game on Saturday.”