Preview: Big Ten, Dec. 28

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

After a short winter break, college hockey is back in action starting today. The second half of the season kicks off with several tournaments, featuring a couple Big Ten teams. The Three Rivers Classic, Florida College Classic and, of course, the Great Lakes Invitational all take place this week. The Gophers host their own annual tournament, the Mariucci Classic, this weekend.

While five Big Ten teams are playing this week or weekend, the Badgers have another “bye” week. They face Trinity Western on New Year’s Day in an exhibition match – Wisconsin’s only exhibition game of the season.

Michigan State and Michigan vs. Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan, Great Lakes Invitational: Dec. 29 and 30 at 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

This has been a really difficult season for Michigan State. Even having one of the best goaltenders around isn’t enough to support a very struggling defense. A part of that could be because of Josh Jacobs’ unexpected offseason departure (he was one of their best defenseman). But whatever the reason, the team defense has looked very weak. The offense has stepped up a little bit though, with freshman Mason Appleton contributing 15 points. Michael Ferrantino,  J.T. Stenglein and Mackenzie MacEachern have 14. The Spartans have one win in their last 10 games.

Michigan fared well in out-of-conference play, but didn’t destroy Wisconsin the way it was expected to. The Wolverines have a 9-3-3 record so far, with a pretty powerful offense backed by Kyle Connor. But they are without Zach Werenski, who’s at the World Junior Championship. Connor leads the team with 22 points and is amongst the nation’s highest-scoring players. Michigan has used two goaltenders again this year, but Steve Racine received most of his starts in November and Zach Nagelvoort had most of his in December. While Michigan lacks a stellar defense, the team leads the nation with 4.47 goals per game.

Michigan Tech is still near the top of the WCHA (currently sitting in third and has a 11-3-5 overall record). For the Huskies, Alex Petan leads the team with 19 points while Jamie Phillips has a .916 save percentage through 17 games this year. The Huskies struggled in December, dropping two games to Alaska-Anchorage and tying Lake Superior State. Elsewhere in the WCHA, Northern Michigan is fifth. The Wildcats are coming off a win against Ferris State but have just two wins in their last eight games. Darren Nowick has seven goals and 12 points for Northern Michigan.

Prediction: Michigan wins the GLI

Penn State vs. Robert Morris: Dec. 28 at 8:05 p.m.; Dec. 29 TBD (Three Rivers Classic)

The Nittany Lions start the second half of their season with the Three Rivers Classic, facing Robert Morris and either UMass-Lowell or Clarkson. The Nittany Lions are on a nine-game unbeaten streak and suffered their last loss on Oct. 30 against St Lawrence. Over that stretch, Penn State has earned wins against Michigan State, Alaska-Anchorage and Sacred Heart. The Nittany Lions have fared well offensively this year, with Kenny Brooks and Curtis Loik tied for the team lead with 16 points. Matthew Skoff and Eamon McAdam have shared the net this year, and McAdam has a .933 save percentage.

Penn State averages 4.38 goals per game, tied for second in the country with first-round opponent Robert Morris. The Colonials are tied for first in Atlantic Hockey. The Colonials are 9-4-3 overall this season with eight wins in conference play. Zac Lynch has 25 points this year, which is sixth in the country, while Terry Shafer and Dalton Izyk have also split goaltending duties this year. Robert Morris has the nation’s best power play, converting 35.4 percent of its chances. Penn State is right behind, with a 30.4 percent conversion rate.

On Tuesday Penn State could face either Clarkson or UMass-Lowell. The RiverHawks are first in Hockey East and hold a 10-3-4 overall record. While the overall record might not be best in the conference (that belongs to undefeated Providence), the RiverHawks have played well this year. But they didn’t end the first half on a great note, dropping two games to UConn. Adam Chapie and C.J. Smith both have 17 points for UMass-Lowell, which allows just 1.76 goals per game. Clarkson has really struggled this year and is last in the ECAC with no conference wins. Overall Clarkson in 7-6-2, but have won just twice in the last nine games – both over Arizona State. Sam Vigneault has 13 points, while Steve Perry has played in 11 games and holds a .895 save percentage. He hasn’t played since Nov. 28, though. Greg Lewis has a .903 save percentage.

Prediction: UMass-Lowell wins

Ohio State vs. Boston College: Dec. 28 at 7:35 p.m.; Dec. 29 TBD (Florida College Classic)

The Buckeyes are traveling to Florida for the Florida College Classic this week. After facing Boston College on Monday, Ohio State will play either Cornell or Providence on Tuesday. The Buckeyes, last in the in the Big Ten, have just three wins on the season and are on a four-game losing streak. Nick Schilkey has 15 points while both Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey have appeared in net this year. While Tomkins was the starter for the first couple of months, Frey started the last two games.

Ohio State has a tough test in Boston College, which boasts a powerful offense and defense. The Eagles average 4.31 goals per game, fourth in the country, led by freshman Colin White’s 23 points. But BC also brings a great defense – it allows just 1.62 goals per game has a penalty kill that kills 90.1 percent of opponents power plays. Goaltender Thatcher Demko has a .941 save percentage, seventh in the country. The Eagles recently had their 13-game unbeaten sneak snapped with a 4-3 loss to Notre Dame on Dec. 10.

The Buckeyes will face either Cornell or Providence on Tuesday, both difficult teams to play against. Cornell has been much better than expected this year and hasn’t lost since dropping a Nov. 7 5-4 OT decision to Quinnipiac. Cornell allows 1.73 goals per game, which gives it the fifth-best defense in the country. The Big Red are tough to score against in 5-on-5 play and on the power play – Cornell’s penalty kill has a 90 percent conversion rate. Jeff Kubiak leads Cornell with 11 points. Mitch Gillam has a .937 save percentage, 12th in the country.

Providence is the nation’s only undefeated team left. The defending national champions are 12-0-3 and are on a six-game winning streak. Providence averages 3.87 goals per game. Jake Walman has 19 points while Mark Jankowski has 18. Nick Ellis has taken Jon Gillies’ place in net and has a .940 save percentage through 14 games.

Prediction: This one is hard, and there are a lot of good teams playing here. Cornell wins.

Minnesota vs. UConn: Jan. 1 at 7 p.m. (Mariucci Classic)

The Gophers kick off the New Year with the Mariucci Classic this weekend. Minnesota will play UConn first and then will face either Harvard and Ferris State. Minnesota has struggled overall this year, holding a 7-8-0 record so far. The Gophers are at the top of the Big Ten so far, though, with three wins and a loss in conference play. The Gophers have four non-conference wins this season, including two against Northeastern. Minnesota has fared slightly better in Big Ten play and recently earning a split with Michigan. Leon Bristedt, who’s having a great year, leads the team with 14 points. Freshman Eric Schierhorn has played well in net and has helped a team that struggled earlier in the season. Schierhorn has a .910 save percentage, ninth nationally amongst freshmen netminders.

While Minnesota has struggled a little bit, so has UConn. The Huskies just snapped an eight-game losing streak with a pair of wins over UMass-Lowell and a tie against Merrimack. The Huskies have five wins on the season but recorded none in November. Freshman Max Letunov leads the team with 18 points while Rob Nichols has a .902 save percentage.

The Gophers will face either Harvard or Ferris State the next night. The Crimson are 6-1-3 on the season and are unbeaten in their last five. Merrick Madsen, who had minimal collegiate experience prior to this year, has the nation’s best save percentage at .966. Granted he’s only started seven games, but he’s been solid for Harvard so far. Harvard’s leading scorer is unsurprisingly Jimmy Vesey, who has 16 points and is third in the nation with 1.60 points per game. Alexander Kerfoot has 13 points.

Ferris State is coming off a pair of series splits against Bemidji State and Northern Michigan. The Bulldogs, who are fourth in the WCHA, have used both Darren Smith and Charles Williams in net this year. Smith, the freshman, has seen more playing time and has a .926 save percentage. Gerald Mayhew leads the team with 18 points.

Prediction: Harvard wins

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