They were picked to win the conference by the coaches at Big Ten media day and have shown signs of being the team that should achieve this goal, however the past two months have been difficult for the Gophers. Despite being the only ranked team in the conference, they lack momentum entering conference play and are struggling to score. Kyle Rau will be the obvious answer for more offensive production, but the Gophers need some of last year’s offensive weapons to catch fire in January.
Red Berenson’s team is arguably the hottest team in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have won eight of their past 10 games and have four players coming off the experience of playing with the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship. The loaded lineup is the nation’s fifth-best scoring offense, averaging 3.65 goals per game. The group is also motivated to return to the postseason after staying home in back-to-back years following 22 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.
Inconsistency plagued the Spartans throughout the first half of the season, but they’ve appeared to work out any major issues as the focus shifts to conference play. Goaltender Jake Hildebrand has a .909 save percentage and Matt Berry and Michael Ferrantino are two of the nation’s top goal scorers. They’ll play the upset role throughout conference play and already have a tie and shootout victory against the Gophers.
The Buckeyes were hoping last year’s Big Ten tournament run would lay the foundation for successful 2014-2015 season, although it’s been a slow start. They opened Big Ten play with a series split at home against Michigan State, but lost to Michigan 8-3 on the road. They’ll play six of their next seven conference games on the road, which could be a good thing. They’re 4-2-2 on the road and just 2-6 at home.
The Nittany Lions appear to be well-adjusted to Division I hockey after two-plus seasons with a varsity program. They’re on the verge of a top 20 ranking and were one of the country’s hottest teams the first two months of the season. After splitting with Michigan in Ann Arbor in late November, they were 7-3-2, but have lost three of their past five games. They’ve yet to lose at home (5-0-1) and play eight of the next nine at Pegula Ice Arena, which should put them in good position for a possible conference title.
Last year’s Big Ten tournament champion and an NCAA tournament No. 1 seed might be the biggest disappointment in college hockey. They’ve won just two games. Players have left the team and recruits are de-committing — things couldn’t get any worse in Madison. However, senior goaltender Joel Rumpel shut out then-No. 5 Michigan Tech 2-0 last Saturday night. Could that be enough of a spark to turnaround the Badgers season?