Big Ten Team Preview Capsules
Head Coach: Mel Pearson
2016-17 Record: 13-19-3, 6-12-2 B1G
Changes: The biggest difference comes from the bench — Red Berenson, a legend if the term were ever appropriate — retired after holding the helm of the program for over 30 years. Mel Pearson will take over, returning to the school where he served as an assistant during two national championship seasons. The Wolverines lost a few seniors including Alex Kile, Nolan De Jong and Zach Nagelvoort. But outside of De Jong, none of the departing players made much of an impact last season.
Michigan can only get better, with Josh Norris leading the incoming freshman class. Also entering is Nick Pastujov’s younger brother, Michael, and Jack Becker, Alex Roos, Luke Morgan, Quinn Hughes and Dakota Raabe. Norris led the US National Team Development Program with 51 points last season. With the U-17 team he had 27 points and won gold at the U-18 World Championship. The Wolverines should also have Cooper Marody available for the full season.
Strength: For the first time in a long time, the Wolverines have good goaltending. They saw flashes of promise from both Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine, which is a good sign for a couple young goaltenders. Pearson said he hasn’t made a decision on the situation but is comfortable either using a rotation or one starter, depending on who’s playing well.
“Both guys had a good opportunity to play last year and I think showed good progress,” Pearson said. “I think that’ll be an area of strength that should be for us going forward.”
Last year the netminders started the season well but struggled as conference play rolled arojund. Lavigne finished the season with a .912 save percentage and LaFontaine with a .911 save percentage.
Weakness: The Wolverines have flipped entirely, sacrificing scoring for goaltending. Michigan’s offense last season was anemic and, even though most players are returning, many points aren’t. Jake Slaker led the team with 21 points and Will Lockwood followed with 20. This year, if the Wolverines intend on competing in a tougher conference, they’ll need more offensive output.
“We were young last year and we got good experience, but still,” Pearson said. “Where are your goals going to come from? I think that’s an area we have to work at. We got a couple high-end forwards but we’re going to definitely need a lot of secondary scoring and what not. But that’s why we’re going to have to be so good defensively because I’m not sure where the goals are going to come from.”
2017-18 Outlook: The Wolverines were lackluster last year, but if injuries hold off — and the incoming freshman hold their own — this should be a better season for Michigan. Plus, the Wolverines have their best goaltending in quite some time.
Prediction: The defense is still struggling and it’s a question mark if the offense can hang with the best of the Big Ten remains to be seen. (5th)
Head Coach: Danton Cole
2016-17 Record: 7-24-4, 3-14-3 B1G
Changes: It seems like the Spartans lost a lot and gained little in return. The team is all-around in transition, marked by Danton Cole’s arrival as head coach after Tom Anastos’ resignation. Outside of the coaching change, the Spartans lost several key players, including Mason Appleton, Joe Cox, Thomas Ebbing, Villiam Haag and defenseman Rhett Holland. Appleton was the team’s leading scorer with 31 points.
Eight freshmen will join the Spartans this year, led by forward David Keefer. Mitchell Lewandowski, Tommy Apap, Bordy Stevens, Jake Smith, Austin Kamer, Gianluca Esteves and defenseman Tommy Miller will also join.
“Tommy Miller was on the U-18 gold medal team last year and has just been very, very solid for us and he’s going to see a lot of minutes,” Cole said. “Up front David Keefer is just a really good hockey player and does a lot of things well. Playing in the USHL last year had a heck of a year, and Mitch Lewandowski who was on the Chciago Steel. … Some of the young guys are going to have to bump up and be able to play some minutes for us.”
Strength: Michigan State doesn’t have any strength, but its best shot still lies with goaltending and defense, assuming Ed Minney can play like he did with the U.S. National Team Development Program. That won’t be an easy task, as Michigan State’s roster — filled with 19 underclassmen — is inexperienced.
“We’re going to have 19 freshmen and sophomores and we’re going to have to use that to our advantage that we have energy every day and get out there and get after it,” Cole said.
Weakness: Everything. This won’t be a great year for the Spartans, who are just starting their transition. Michigan State has always struggled to score and, recently, have struggled to keep opponents from scoring. Last year the Spartans allowed 3.83 goals per game —fourth-worst in the country.
“If you want to look for an area where I think we can improve quickly, it would be on the defensive end,” Cole said. “And that’s not just playing in the D zone but that also that includes how you pressure in the offensive zone, how you puck protect, how you back pressure and how you transition out of that so that’s the, all those things go into keeping it out of your own net.”
2017-18 Outlook: It will take a few years before Cole can recruit his players and turn the program around. But with the pieces the team has now, it’ll be another long season.
Prediction: For the second-straight year, Michigan State’s success will rest on Minney. (7th)
Head Coach: Don Lucia
2016-17 Record: 23-12-3, 14-5-1 B1G
Changes: When the class of 2017 graduated, so did a core of Gophers that included Jake Bischoff, Justin Kloos, Vinni Lettieri, Taylor Cammarata, Connor Reilly and Ryan Collins. Kloos and Lettieri were two offensive workhorses who combined for 80 points. Minnesota’s defense also suffered, as the Gophers lost solid blueliners in Bischoff and Collins.
But leading scorer Tyler Sheehy will be back, and Tommy Novak and Ryan Lindgren are injury-free and ready to go. And like every season, Minnesota is bringing in a talented freshman class. With just one early departure, the Gophers are bringing in a slightly smaller class consisting of Casey Mittelstadt, Sam Rossini, Brannon McManus, Nate Knoepke, Cullen Munson and Scott Reedy. Mittelstadt, last year’s Mr. Hockey, leads the group as one of the most skilled forwards amongst college hockey’s freshmen.
Strength: Like every season, the Gophers drop the puck looking like the most threatening team in the conference. They’re talented and have the deepest offense in the country, led by Tyler Sheehy and his 20 goals and 33 assists last season. They’re also returning Leon Bristedt and Rem Pitlick, who scored 33 and 32 points, respectively. They will also have a healthy Lindgren and Novak, plus Mittelstadt, which may give the Gophers a more powerful offense than last year’s.
“I think we’ll be pretty good up front and deeper than maybe what we were a year ago,” Lucia said.
Weakness: The only area of question is goaltending, as it has been the past couple of years. Eric Scheirhorn has been average. He’s struggled with consistency in the past but has played well now and then, stealing a couple games for the Gophers. While it’s not a true weakness, this is the biggest question mark for Minnesota this year.
2017-18 Outlook: The Gophers have a lot of offensive depth. They usually always win the Big Ten regular season, and with players like Sheehy, Novak and Mittelstadt, they should be favored to do the same this year.
Prediction: A powerful offense in a league with average goaltending is a straight ticket to No. 1. (1st)
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Head Coach: Jeff Jackson
2016-17 Record: 23-12-5, 12-6-4 HE
Changes: The Fighting Irish lost two of their biggest players in seniors-to-be Anders Bjork and Cal Petersen. In return, the Fighting Irish welcome goaltenders Dylan St. Cyr and Nick Sanford, forwards Pierce Crawford, Max Eisenmenger, Colin Theisen and Matt Steeves, and defenseman Matt Hellickson.
“Pierce, he’s a tenacious player that we recruited because of that tenaciousness,” coach Jeff Jackson said. “We want him to be a pitbull on the ice and it’s something maybe our team has lacked a little bit of.”
St. Cyr, who most likely will be Petersen’s replacement, spent the past two seasons with the NTDP and posted a .912 save percentage last season against USHL competition. He also finished the U-18 World Championship last year with a 7-0-0 record and a gold medal.
“He’s a talented young goaltender that we’re hoping can make the transition to college hockey,” Jackson said.
Strength: This team is deep. While their leading scorer may be gone, the Fighting Irish have more than enough pieces to replace him. The Fighting Irish lost 52 points with Bjork’s departure, but returning are Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie’s 42 and 41 points, respectively.
“I have confidence with the guys that we have that are coming in as freshmen and also some returning guys that I expect will have better years,” Jackson said. “I think guys like Cam Morrison, who finished the year strong last year, Cal Burke even though he was injured for the last month or so last year really came on in the second half. Dylan Mamlquist is a guy I think can have a breakout type season like Oglevie did last year.”
Weakness: The biggest question mark for Notre Dame is goaltending. While St. Cyr is expected to make an impact, it’s difficult to predict how freshmen netminders will fare. He has the advantage of having an experienced team in front of him, though.
2017-18 Outlook: In theory, Notre Dame could've steamrolled a lukewarm conference. Even without Bjork and Petersen, they’ll still be one of the best Big Ten teams.
Prediction: The scoring is there, but the team’s success will depend on St. Cyr. (3rd)
Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Steve Rohlik
2016-17 Record: 21-12-6, 11-8-1 B1G
Changes: Ohio State lost four impact players, all to graduation — goaltenders Christian Frey and Matt Tomkins graduated, along with solid defenseman Josh Healey and forwards Nick Schilkey and David Gust. With the departures of Gust and Schilkey, the Buckeyes lost 82 points.
The Buckeyes welcome six freshmen split evenly amongst all positions: forwards Eugene Fadyeyev and Austin Pooley, defensemen Michael Rounds and Grant Gabriele, and goaltenders Tommy Nappier and Evan Moyse.
The spotlight rests on Nappier and Moyse and whether they can replace or exceed Tomkins and Frey in net. Nappier posted a .929 save percentage in the USHL last year while Moyse posted a .910 save percentage in the NAHL.
Strength: The Buckeyes have a never-ending well of scoring. When one powerhouse offensive player leaves, another is waiting to replace them. Even without the 82 points from Schilkey and Gust, the Buckeyes still return four players who scored 30 points or more. At the forefront is Mason Jobst, who contributed 55 points last season. Dakota Joshua added 35 and Tanner Laczynski, who missed a few games, added 32.
“We have some depth up front, depth on the blue line and bring back a bit of experience and I think that’s always a key,” head coach Steve Rohlik said.
Weakness: Ohio State has always lacked in defense and goaltending in recent years, and this year is no exception. Tomkins and Frey provided an interesting mix of goaltending over the past four seasons that sometimes featured a rotation and at other times featured a No. 1.
It isn’t easy goaltending for the Buckeyes, as their run-and-gun offense results in a few turnovers and fast-paced games. Whether Moyse and Nappier are up to the task remains to be seen.
2017-18 Outlook: The Buckeyes lost two explosive players and their goaltenders, but they’re equipped enough to replace both without a hitch.
Prediction: Ohio State’s strength has always lied in outscoring opponents and they still have the pieces to do that. (5th)
Penn State Nittany Lions
Head Coach: Guy Gadowksy
2016-17 Record: 25-12-2, 10-9-1 B1G
Changes: Penn State lost a few players, including key contributors Vince Pedrie and David Goodwin. Goodwin contributed 38 points last season, second most on the team, while Pedrie added 30 points from the blue line. While Goodwin graduated, Pedrie opted out for a professional contract. Penn State welcomes forwards Sam Sternschein, Alex Limoges and Evan Barratt, and defensemen Cole Hults, Adam Pilewicz and Alex Stevens.
“We feel very fortunate that we were able to get Cole Holts, who is another offensive left-hand shot, hard-shooting defensemen so immediatly I think you could look to him, that he would get opportunities to play in spots that Vince did,” Gadowsky said.
Strength: Even with the loss of Goodwin, the Nittany Lions are still an offense-first team. Gadowsky has coached and conditioned them to shoot, a lot, and that’s given the team scoring ability. Penn State still returns five of its top scorers, led by Denis Smirnov who led all freshmen with 47 points.
Penn State also returns three players who scored over 30 including Andrew Sturtz, Nate Sucese and Chase Berger, who scored 37, 36 and 36 points last year, respectively. Six-foot-7 Nikita Pavlechev came on strong last year and is poised for a big sophomore season. Another sophomore, Kris Myllari, emerged as a force down the stretch, too, and the team gets junior defenseman Kevin Kerr back in the lineup after he missed a large part of last season to injury.
Weakness: Defensive consistency was an issue for Penn State. There were games where the blueliners were turning the puck over and getting burned easily.
“I think we really want to improve the consistency of our defensive play,” Gadowsky said. “I think there’s areas that we can control that we can be much better at and much more consistent at.”
Prediction: Penn State’s play rests with Peyton Jones in net and the defense’s improvement. Their record and stats last year was influenced by an easier non-conference schedule, and things may be tougher this year with the addition of Notre Dame and Wisconsin’s Kyle Hayton.
Projected finish: Penn State has the pieces, but it’s hard to tell how they’ll fit in a tougher conference. (4th)
Head Coach: Tony Granato
2016-17 Record: 20-15-1, 12-8-0 B1G
Changes: The Badgers suffered from a big loss but also received an enormous gain. Captain Luke Kunin turned pro at the end of the season and Grant Besse, who added 28 points, graduated. But Wisconsin welcomed graduate student goaltender Kyle Hayton — a former ECAC Goaltender of the Year.
The Badgers still have a healthy dose of scoring from Trent Frederic, Cameron Hughes and Seamus Malone who netted 33, 32 and 29 points respectively.
“Those are three pretty good centers that are great puck distributors and also can finish as well so I don’t think the offensive production will drop,” head coach Tony Granato said. “It may be a little more spread out.”
Wisconsin welcomes seven freshmen — Wyatt Kalynuk, Tyler Inamoto, Linus Weissbach, Tarek Baker, Josh Ess, Jason Dhooghe and Sean Dhooghe. Inamoto and Sean Dhooge were teammates at the NTDP for two seasons where they won gold medals at both Five Nations tournaments, won gold at the U-18 World Championships and attended the USA Hockey Junior Evaluation Camp this summer.
Strength: For the first time since Joel Rumpel had a subpar senior season, the Badger strength lies in goaltending. Hayton, a former ECAC Goaltender of the Year, comes in as a grad transfer. He posted a save percentage of .929 last season, which led the ECAC. He was named the ECAC Rookie of the Year in 2014-15 after his save percentage of .937 set a new St. Lawrence record.
In a conference where goaltending is lacking, having a good netminder can be the difference maker.
Weakness: Wisconsin’s ability to play cleanly was an issue for them last year. That’s normal when players are young or they’re adapting to a new coach, but those problems usually smooth themselves out toward the end of the year. But it was well into second semester hockey, and the players were still committing mistakes — turning the puck over, sloppy play and the like.
“I think it’s pretty clear what our expectations are here as a program and also on our style of play and what’s expected of them ever single night,” Granato said. “That’s all gone well. We’re really excited. The guys that are returning, obviously we did lose a few key players but I also think the maturity of the guys that are returning will be able to fill the holes that those guys left.”
2017-18 Outlook: Prediction: Wisconsin lost a key piece and their lack of progress — the fact they were still committing little mistakes in February — is worrisome. But, having the best goaltender in the conference is a plus.
Prediction: Strong forwards plus good goaltending should lead to success and a return to the NCAAs. (2nd)