The Big Ten looks to continue its non-conference success this weekend with five schools playing. All teams but the Badgers, who will play the NTDP U-18 team, are locked into weekend series. The competition is tougher than last weekend, and some of the Big Ten teams may no longer be undefeated. But the conference has done well in non-conference competition so far with a 9-6-2 record.
There isn’t much we know about the Big Ten teams so far since it’s still early, but we do know that sophomores are leading Minnesota and both Michigan and Ohio State have done well defensively. Those three teams are facing a step up in competition, but their opponents for the weekend have been struggling.
Denver (2-2-0) at Michigan State (0-2-0): Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.; Oct. 22 at 5 p.m.
The Spartans continue their season by hosting Denver this weekend. The Pioneers rebounded from a tough opening weekend at the Ice Breaker Tournament – where the Pioneers fell to Ohio State and Boston College – and swept Boston University last weekend. The Pioneers struggled in the beginning of the first game but recovered, eventually winning both games by a goal. Tanner Jaillet has a .917 save percentage.
Michigan State just dropped a pair of games to Lake Superior State and allowed 13 goals last weekend. The Spartans at least got four goals of their own and right now it’s looking like they may be more reliant on offense than defense. Which is odd, considering Michigan State’s claim was defense the past few years. That changed last when Josh Jacobs didn’t return to school and the defense shifted and never recovered. There are some players the Spartans have who might be able to strengthen the back end, but it’s been a struggle so far. Both Ed Minney and John Lethemon have played this season and neither have good save percentages. Minney, with a .824 save percentage, has the advantage.
Even on a bad week, the Pioneers are a much better team than the Spartans. Opening weekend looked like a wakeup call for Denver, which last week showed why its one of the top teams in the country last weekend.
Prediction: Denver sweeps
Michigan Tech (1-4-1) at Michigan (2-1-0): Oct. 21 a 7:30 p.m.l Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m.
After defeating Ferris State, the Wolverines have now won two games in a row. Michigan hasn’t been scoring as much but the program has also allowed five goals through three games – which isn’t bad for a Kyle Connor-less Wolverines. They have had a different goaltender start in each game, though, although Hayden Lavigne has the best save percentage thanks to his shutout. The freshman Jake Slaker has three assists and Sam Piazza leads the team with three goals.
They’ll face off against inter-state rival Michigan Tech, which only has one win. But the Huskies are undefeated in their last two after beating and tying Alabama-Huntsville. Both Devin Kero and Matt Winjes have seen playing time, although both have save percentages less than .900. The Huskies lost their first two series against Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State, and it looks like this might be a tough season for Michigan Tech too. Shane Hanna leads Michigan Tech with four points and two goals.
The fact that Michigan hasn’t been giving up very many goals is encouraging, even if the Wolverines haven’t settled on a goaltender yet. They might be better this year than people thought.
Prediction: Michigan wins
Penn State (2-1-0) at Notre Dame (3-10-0): Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.
The Nittany Lions travel to Indiana to face their future Big Ten opponent, Notre Dame. Notre Dame has three wins on the season, but two came over Arizona State. The Fighting Irish then split with Minnesota-Duluth. Notre Dame was picked to finish second by Hockey East media, but it’s still too early to see how good the Fighting Irish are. They’re led by Anders Bjork and Cal Peterson. Bjork already has five goals and 10 points and Peterson has a .917 save percentage.
The Fighting Irish are the toughest test for Penn State so far, and the only test Penn State faces before returning home for an incredibly easy slate of competition. The Nittany Lions are 2-1 but have played St. Lawrence and Mercyhurst. Penn State scored seven over the weekend on a tough St. Lawrence defense, but there’s no guarantee the numbers are sustainable – especially against tougher competition. Chase Berger leads the team with four pints while Andrew Sturtz and Nate Sucese both have three goals. Sturtz is the first player in the program’s DI history to have a goal in the first three consecutive games to open the season. Peyton Jones has gotten most of the net time and holds a.914 save percentage. But, Penn State’s penalty kill is 15-of-15 this season and has two shorthanded goals.
Last year these two teams met and split the series, with Notre Dame outscoring Penn State 10-9. The challenge for Penn State to see if it can keep its offense going against Cal Peterson.
Prediction: Notre Dame sweeps
Ohio State (1-0-2) vs. Bowling Green: Oct. 21 at 8 p.m.; Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.
The Buckeyes and Falcons meet for an in-state rivalry weekend. Last year Bowling Green swept the series, winning the first game 6-3 and the second 2-0. It was a part of the string of seven-straight losses Ohio State had to start the season. But things have been different this year, and the Buckeyes are undefeated and have a win and two ties. Ohio State opened with an impressive win over Denver and then tied Air Force and Miami, which isn’t a bad start. But because it’s early, it’s hard to tell what kind of Denver team the Buckeyes took down in the season opener. Sophomore John Wiitala has two goals, while both Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey have seen time i net. Tomkins has a save percentage of .970.
Bowling Green enters the series on a four-game losing streak. The Falcons haven’t won a game this season after dropping a pair to Bemijdi State and losing to and tying Western Michigan. Bowling Green lost its last game 8-2. It’s been a rough start to the season for the Falcons, who haven’t had solid goaltending. All three have seen the net, but Chris Neil has seen the most playing time. He has a .865 save percentage. Stephen Baylis and Sean Walker lead the team with three points.
The teams have had opposite starts to the season. The Buckeyes may cool down a bit, but there’s no sign Bowling Green is going to improve. And the Buckeyes are actually getting okay goaltending.
Prediction: Ohio State sweeps
Minnesota (2-0-0) vs. St. Cloud State (0-2-0): Oct. 21 at 9 p.m. CT; Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. CT
After beating the NDTP U-18 team 9-0, the Gophers return to play with a home-and-home with St. Cloud State. The Gophers have a few tough games ahead of them, with series against North Dakota and Minnesota State. Minnesota is 2-0 to start the season after sweeping Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage and scoring 12 goals on the western trip. It’s a much better start to the season than the Gophers had last year, albeit against mediocre competition. Tyler Sheehy has five points, while Eric Schierhorn has a .912 save percentage.
The Huskies are 0-2 after dropping a season-opening series to Minnesota State. The Mavericks won the first game 4-1 and the second 6-4. St. Cloud suffered some offseason losses, including leading scorer Kalle Kossila, who graduated. But they also lost golatender Charlie Lindgren, who left early. He played in 40 games and posted a .925 save percentage last year. Jeff Smith and Zach Driscoll have each played, although Smith has seen more time and has a better save percentage at .857. Three players, all juniors, lead the team with two points.
This may not be the series that will tell us if Minnesota is really good. Still, it’s a better test than Alaska and Alaska Anchorage. The Huskies are, or were, a good team, but they have a lot of losses to overcome and Minnesota doesn’t.
Prediction: Series split