THE NEW CONFERENCE
Gophers men’s hockey beat writer Jason Gonzalez takes a look at the six teams in the new Big Ten men’s hockey conference, in order of predicted finish by the conference coaches:
1. Wisconsin: Experience is the Badgers’ edge. Wisconsin has nine seniors and seven juniors, the most it’s had since the 2009-2010 Frozen Four team. Coach Mike Eaves hopes the combination repeats itself for another deep run.
2. Gophers: Small but skilled and speedy is the way co-captain Nate Condon described the team. The lack of size shouldn’t be a problem for the Gophers, though. Kyle Rau said the smaller Gophers play much bigger.
3. Michigan: Michigan has a lot to prove after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991. The Wolverines made improvements in the second half of last season and hope that a change at goalie will lead to more success.
T-4. Michigan State: The Spartans hope the start of Big Ten hockey will help return a winning tradition to the hockey program. Coach Tom Anastos said he expects the program to move into the top half of the conference soon.
T-4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes are eager to get their national sports brand more exposure on ice. The Big Ten Network will help achieve this, but it will be up to Ohio State’s depth to show the Buckeyes can perform among better conference competition.
6. Penn State: The newcomers are just happy to be here. Coach Guy Gadowsky said he and his team has a lot of catching up to do and possibly could have used another year as an independent. The Nittany Lions hope to build on wins against Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State last season.