Play continues this weekend for all Big Ten teams except for Ohio State. Penn State hosts out-of-conference Princeton, while Michigan, Minnesota, Michigan State and Wisconsin continue conference play.
Last week, the first weekend of Big Ten play, didn’t reveal much. But it seems as if most matches will be close, based on Ohio State losing two one-goal games to Minnesota and Wisconsin playing a pair of close games with Michigan.
This weekend, Michigan hosts Minnesota – a matchup of the preseason top two teams. The Gophers have struggled this year, but they do have goaltending. Meanwhile, Michigan State hosts Wisconsin. The Spartans have been a difficult team to characterize this year and the Badgers have been better than expected.
Penn State vs. Princeton: Dec. 11 at 7 p.m.
There probably isn’t a single-game matchup with more connections than the Princeton-Penn State game. Guy Gadowsky coached the Tigers for several years and guided them to the team’s last two NCAA tournament appearances and recruited some of the players who are with Princeton right now. Penn State’s leading freshman scorer, Chase Berger, is the younger brother of former Princeton captain Jack Berger, who played under Gadowsky for a season.
Connections aside, the matchup features a powerful offense against one of the better goaltenders in the country. The Nittany Lions have barreled through most of their opponents, but a series against St. Lawrence was an exception. Penn State’s offense can be stopped, but it will be a challenge for Princeton.
The Tigers only have four wins on the season but has three in its last five games, including a sweep of Brown and Yale. The Tigers are vastly improved from last year, especially offensively. The freshmen have been a huge part of that boost, and rookie Ryan Kuffner leads the team with eight points. Colton Phinney has a .940 save percentage, seventh in the country.
Prediction: Penn State wins
Michigan vs. Minnesota: Dec. 11 at 7:05 p.m.; Dec. 12 at 8:35 p.m.
The Wolverines don’t actually have the Big Ten’s best offense. But they still have a solid offense and some talented forwards (like Kyle Connor). The Wolverines, though, lack goaltending and a solid defense. It’s the same thing that’s been an issue for Michigan in years past, and part of what makes it an interesting matchup against the Gophers.
Minnesota actually has good goaltending, as Eric Schoerhorn has been stellar for the Gophers. He’s been able to clean up the mistakes of a young Minnesota team and will be crucial to the team’s success. But like many of the other Big Ten teams, Minnesota hasn’t fared well in keeping pucks out of its own net.
Can Schierhorn stop Michigan’s offense? And will the Gophers be able to cut through the Wolverine defense?
Prediction: Minnesota sweeps
Michigan State vs. Wisconsin: Dec. 11 at 7:05 p.m.; Dec. 12 at 2:35 p.m.
The Spartans are no longer the defensive team holding opponents to two goals or less. Michigan State actually has one of the nation’s worst defenses, allowing 3.40 goals per game. But offense has been there for the Spartans, with JT Stenglein leading the way. He has 14 points for a Spartan offense that’s averaging 2.80 goals per game.
The Badgers have been interesting. They’re not in the conference cellar and have a few good players (like Grant Besse). Matt Jurusik has played pretty well for the Badgers too. Although no one expected them to be engaged in two shootouts with the Wolverines.
Neither of these teams are predictable yet. Well, none of the teams in the conference are.
Prediction: Series split