Big Ten Team Preview Capsules
by Matt Slovin/CHN Reporter
Head Coach: Red Berenson
2012-13 Record: 18-19-3 overall, 10-15-3 CCHA (7th)
Changes: How do you replace defenseman Jacob Trouba, a one-and-done player who has already made his presence known with the Winnipeg Jets? Quite simply, you don’t. Finding someone to fill the scoring void left by A.J. Treais, who graduated, will also be difficult. Defenseman Lee Moffie also graduated, but Berenson is anxious to turn the page on the first Michigan team to miss the NCAA Tournament in 23 years. A recruiting class that includes forward J.T. Compher, the second-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres, should help.
Strength: A forward corps that averaged 3.23 goals per game, good for seventh in the country, a season ago should be even stronger. At his best, junior Alex Guptill is a natural scorer who some feel could even contend for the Hobey Baker Award. At his worst, he is completely unreliable; Berenson suspended him for the opener against Boston College due to an off-ice issue.
Sophomores Andrew Copp, who earned an ‘A’ on his sweater with his leadership, and Boo Nieves, the team’s fastest skater, will need to live up to impressive rookie campaigns. Junior Phil Di Giuseppe is still a bit of an unknown, capable of tremendous scoring lines but also prolonged slumps.
Weakness: A Trouba-less defense is where the Wolverines will hurt the most this season. The unit simply lacks the depth that Michigan teams usually possess, and there is little experience outside of captain Mac Bennett, a Montreal Canadiens draftee. "Everyone that has been here and has played already, we need to take a step because we lost so many good players," Bennett told reporters recently. Freshmen Michael Downing and Nolan de Jong should contribute immediately.
2013-14 Outlook: Berenson’s opportunities for one more national championship are running out. This year’s team might not have the hype around it that last year’s did entering the season, but the good news is, it shouldn’t be too hard to improve. Michigan certainly isn’t the favorite to win the first Big Ten regular-season title, but a top-half finish is probably expected.
The Wolverines likely have the scoring prowess to get back to the NCAA Tournament; the question will be whether or not the defense can hold up its end of the bargain. Playing a brutal schedule, the freshmen will need to adapt quickly to the college level.
Michigan State Spartans
Head Coach: Tom Anastos
2012-13 Record: 14-26-3 overall, 9-18-1 CCHA (11th)
Changes: Freshman forward Mackenzie Maceachern, Mr. Hockey for the state of Michigan in 2011-12, should make an instant impact for the Spartans. The team lost three forwards, with a combined 13 goals, from last year when Michigan State finished last in the CCHA.
Back for the Spartans is Rhett Holland, who suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season early last year. Anastos told reporters that the highly-penalized Holland, whose rights are held by the Phoenix Coyotes, will bring “size, strength and toughness” to the Michigan State defense.
Strength: The Spartans are fortunate to have two talented goaltenders in senior Will Yanakeff and sophomore Jake Hildebrand. Hildebrand, especially, has high expectations this season after allowing just a 2.35 goals against average last year. Anastos will have the luxury of riding the hot hand.
And even though the Michigan State offense failed miserably in 2012-13, the top-six point scorers are back and should benefit from a year of experience. Senior captain Greg Wolfe will set the tone for how the unit performs.
Weakness: The lethargic forward corps will be without its star, Matt Berry, due to a lower-body injury that will sideline him until around December. Without him, it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly there will be enough offensive improvement for the Spartans to expect significantly different results from a season ago.
Another standout, defenseman John Draeger, is also hurt and will be out until November or December. How Michigan State survives without two of its leaders will go a long way toward predicting how conference play will go.
“Injury is a part of the game, and we’ll have to deal with that,” Anastos told reporters recently. “But that’s something that we are going to have to overcome especially early in the season.”
2013-14 Outlook: Last year was a disaster for Michigan State, which was at the time one of the youngest teams in college hockey. If the Spartans can weather the storm while the injury bug has struck, it’ll be a sign of good things to come once the rough portion of the schedule kicks in.
We’ll learn quickly how improved the offense truly is. If the answer is “not by much,” it could be another long season in East Lansing. If there’s progress up front, with the goaltending tandem, Michigan State could crack the top half of the league.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Head Coach: Don Lucia
2012-13 Record: 26-9-5 overall, 16-7-5 WCHA (T-1st)
Changes: Three early departures, Nick Bjugstad, Zach Budish and Erik Haula, have turned the Golden Gophers from a near-lock to win the first Big Ten title to just a comfortable favorite. The trio comprised three of Minnesota’s top four scorers from last year’s team that bowed out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to eventual champion Yale.
Meanwhile, Hudson Fasching, a freshman, likely has himself a spot on the top line. “He’s playing with pace. He’s playing hard. You get rewarded when you play that way,” Lucia told reporters.
Strength: Adam Wilcox, unheralded entering last season, emerged early on as a tremendous talent between the pipes. Wilcox recorded a save percentage of .921 to go along with a school-record 1.88 goals-against average.
Brady Skjei should be much improved from last year as one of the best skating defensemen in the conference. Kyle Rau, the short, pesky first-line center, has a knack for scoring important goals and is the team’s leading returning scorer (15-25-40).
Weakness: Well, there aren’t many holes on this roster. The losses of Bjugstad, Budish and Haula, as well as those of defensemen Nate Schmidt (last year’s Team MVP), Mark Alt and Seth Helgeson have certainly depleted the personnel, however.
And despite the wealth of talent the Golden Gophers have up front, some have questioned whether or not the unit has the size to live up to its potential.
2013-14 Outlook: It’s tough to pick against Minnesota in the inaugural year of Big Ten play, though the coaches favored Wisconsin. The Golden Gophers underachieved last year with the first-round NCAA loss, so the pressure is on this season.
The goal of a national championship somehow never changes for Minnesota. Assuming new scorers make up for offseason departures, a Frozen Four berth would seem like a very strong possibility.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Steve Rohlik
2012-13 Record: 16-17-7 overall, 15-11-5 CCHA (4th)
Changes: The biggest change for the Buckeyes comes behind the bench, where Rohlik has replaced Mark Osiecki, who was fired after three seasons in Columbus. “We do have a hockey team down here in Columbus,” Rohlik told USCHO recently. “I think people are going to realize that.” Also gone is CCHA Goaltender of the Year Brady Hjelle, who graduated.
From Spartan and Wolverine territory comes freshman Nick Schilkey. In two USHL seasons, Schilkey established himself as a goal-scoring threat, leading the Green Bay Gamblers with 32 last year.
Strength: Ohio State does have some talent up front, led by junior Ryan Dzingel. Another Buckeye forward who made that list is fellow junior Max McCormick.
On defense, senior captain Curtis Gedig is going to have to carry the torch. Without the security of Hjelle behind him, Gedig will need to play near flawlessly while surrounded by youth. Sophomore Craig Dalrymple is another blue liner who isn’t a liability. Justin DaSilva, at 6-foot-6, is as intimidating as they come.
Weakness: Replacing Hjelle is certainly going to pose a major challenge to the Buckeyes. That unfortunate task falls to sophomore Collin Olson, who did appear in nine games last season, including a win over Minnesota-Duluth. Matt Tomkins should also get a look between the pipes, Rohlik told College Hockey News recently.
There also probably isn’t enough scoring depth for Ohio State to beat some of the better defensive teams on its schedule.
2013-14 Outlook: This is a program that has been on the rise the past few seasons. Going with Rohlik could be the spark Ohio State needs to finally turn the corner. But the talent discrepancy against the likes of Minnesota and Wisconsin is likely too large for the Buckeyes to make a serious run at a conference title. Expect them to battle it out with Michigan State for fourth place in the standings.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: Guy Gadowsky
2012-13 Record: 13-14-0 overall
Changes: The new era of Penn State hockey that began last season with the transformation to Division I will reach the next level with the opening of the beautiful Pegula Ice Arena. Though the Nittany Lions lost a quarter of its roster from last season, the good news for them is there isn’t much offense to replace.
Penn State has added some talented skaters to its blue line, like Rensselaer transfer Patrick Koudys. In addition, freshman Mike Williamson, who was drafted in the sixth round of this year’s NHL Draft by the Vancouver Canucks, and David Thompson should add some much-needed depth to a team that struggled to have enough healthy bodies on defense last year.
Strength: The Nittany Lions should be experienced in the attacking zone; the scorers of 70 of last season’s 74 goals will be back on the ice. Sophomore David Glen, who didn’t miss a game last season, has shown he has the ability to be an explosive scorer with a finishing touch.
The addition of freshman Pennsylvania native Eamon McAdam to the goaltending contingent is a welcomed one. But Gadowsky has yet to name a starter between the pipes, telling reporters McAdam, sophomore Matthew Skoff and junior P.J. Musico are all in the mix.
Weakness: Special teams is where Penn State desperately needs to improve in order to compete with teams that simply have more talent. Last year, the Nittany Lions converted on an abysmal 11 percent of power-play opportunities. Last year’s leading point scorer, Casey Bailey, told reporters, “I think we have a lot more tools than we did last year to improve on that aspect of our game.”
2013-14 Outlook: Though Penn State defeated three Big Ten teams last season, the Nittany Lions still have to be viewed as the conference’s biggest underdog. “We have beaten them,” junior forward Taylor Holstrom told reporters. “But the hard part is going to be coming in every night and having to beat them on a consistent basis.”
Penn State seems to be embracing its role as underdogs in its second Division I season. While the Nittany Lions will certainly win games they aren’t expected to, it’s hard to see them finishing out of the cellar or just above it.
Head Coach: Mike Eaves
2012-13 Record: 22-13-7 overall, 13-8-7 WCHA (4th)
Changes: Not a whole lot looks different from last year’s Badger squad. Both goalies return for Wisconsin, as does over 80 percent of the total scoring. Freshman Grant Besse will likely be called upon to make an impact early, which could be key to the team’s success.
"I think history tells us that teams that are successful, they need a group or one or two freshmen to step up and be a factor after Christmas and be a contributing factor, and we're no different this year," Eaves told reporters.
A couple 20-point guys, Derek Lee and John Ramage, are gone to graduation.
Strength: Nic Kerdiles, one of the country’s most dynamic freshmen last year, will help lead an experienced forward corps. He’ll be aided by Michael Mersch, who finished fourth in the country in goals scored last year.
In net, Joel Rumpel and Landon Peterson are back. Both would start on a vast majority of Division I teams. On defense, junior Jake McCabe, who captained Team USA to a gold at last year’s World Juniors, will need to be a rock.
Weakness: How will the defense fare outside of the top pairing of McCabe and senior captain Frankie Simonelli? This is the question that is on some peoples’ mind in Madison. But the better question might be: Are McCabe and Simonelli good enough that it might not matter all that much.
2013-14 Outlook: If anyone is going to steal the first Big Ten regular-season title from the Golden Gophers, it will be the Badgers. With so much returning, this team without question has the experience to do it, as well as contend for a national title.