With mid-December approaching, most teams have embarked on a midseason break. Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State are all off this weekend. On Dec. 29, when the break is over, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State will take the ice.
College hockey may be winding down, but the World Junior Championship is quickly approaching. Eight Big Ten players – Ryan Collins, Hudson Fasching, J.T. Compher, Michael Downing, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Motte, Zach Werenski and Jack Dougherty – were named to USA’s preliminary roster.
The conference has two international representations in Penn State’s Erik Autio (Finland) and Minnesota’s Leon Bristedt (Switzerland).
If you missed it, the Big Ten announced a partnership to bring a basketball-hockey doubleheader to Madison Square Garden. From attending, it was clear hockey was an afterthought. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn’t say much about its impact on hockey’s expansion, or if the doubleheader can pull attendance despite being so far away from most of the hockey schools.
Michigan travels to Boston College, while the Spartans will host Clarkson. The really struggling Badgers – and I mean really struggling, because defenseman Keegan Ford left the program – play the NTDP in an exhibition game.
Wisconsin (1-10-1) vs. USNTDP U-18: Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.
Wisconsin’s already difficult season became worse when Keegan Ford told Badger coach Mike Eaves he wanted to leave the program. Ford is a Wisconsin legacy, and he was one of the team’s few healthy defenseman. And the rookie blueliner had appeared in every game this season.
The news of Keegan’s departure comes less than a week after Adam Rockwood was ruled out indefinitely because of an enzyme deficiency.
The Badgers were swept last weekend, as Penn State took 5-2 and 4-2 victories at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin is now on a two-game losing streak, but they’ve still only won once this season.
Wisconsin’s game against the NTDP kicks off another long break for the Badgers, who return to regular-season play on Jan. 2. Earlier in the season, Wisconsin had a period where it played one weekend over a month span.
Prediction: Probably the NTDP
Michigan (8-6-0) at Boston College (8-7-1): Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.
After an inconsistent start to the season, the Wolverines are now on a four-game winning streak. Over that period, Michigan has outscored opponents 35-6. But, the eight goals against Penn State are an inflated total – a slew of them happened very late in the game. And the Wolverines beat up on a Jason Kasdorf-less RPI.
And it’s not the offense everyone was worried about. It’s the defense and goalkeeping. To Michigan’s credit, Zach Nagelvoort has taken back the net. He’s started the last seven games, and has improved his save percentage drastically from November.
Boston College lost a lot of key players last season, and the Eagles haven’t been as strong a team. BC has won one of its last three games, a 4-2 contest against New Hampshire.
This isn’t last year’s BC team, but the Eagles might be the toughest test the Wolverines have faced in the past couple of weeks.
Prediction: Michigan wins
Clarkson (6-7-4) at Michigan State (5-9-1): Dec. 14 at 5 p.m.
The Spartans have one win in their last five games, and last weekend Michigan State lost to Minnesota before earning a 3-3 tie. Most of Michigan State’s weekends have resulted in splits.
Clarkson is third in the ECAC with four conference wins. The Golden Knights are 3-2 in their last four games, which includes a win over St. Lawrence. After a seven-game winless streak earlier in the season, Clarkson has turned things around over the past few games.
Joe Zarbo leads Clarkson’s offense with 10 points. Steve Perry has started 14 games and holds a .912 save percentage, helping the Golden Knights allow two goals per game.
Michigan State’s offense is led by Matt Berry, Michael Ferrnantino and Mackenzie MacEachern. Jake Hildebrand has a .906 save percentage.
Prediction: Not sure. Clarkson wins?