Big Ten hockey has four teams ranked in the national polls after a successful regular season, yet the conference is in danger of earning only one spot in the NCAA tournament.
The No. 1-seeded Gophers, fifth in the Pairwise rankings, are likely the only team guaranteed a spot in the 16-team tournament. Second seed Wisconsin (18th), No. 3 Ohio State (14th) and No. 4 Penn State (tied for 12th) might have to win the Big Ten tournament in Detroit to continue playing.
Gophers (23-10-3): Senior captain Justin Kloos and Big Ten Player of the Year Tyler Sheehy are hoping to lead the Gophers to just their second conference tournament title in the past 10 years.
The program won its sixth consecutive conference regular-season championship and enters the postseason trying for a top regional seed.
Wisconsin (19-14-1): Big Ten Coach of the Year Tony Granato had a strong first season, but despite finishing second in the Big Ten, the Badgers are outside of the bubble.
Wild first-round pick Luke Kunin and Bruins first-round pick Trent Frederic are the team’s top scorers.
Ohio State (20-10-6): The Buckeyes have one of the best offenses in the country, averaging four goals a game.
Senior forward Nick Schilkey is tied for third in the nation in goals with 26, and Mason Jobst has 51 points, ninth best.
Penn State (21-11-2): The Nittany Lions made their first-ever appearance at No. 1 in the national polls earlier this season but have dropped quickly and must rally to make the NCAA tournament.
Led by freshman forward Denis Smirnov (17 goals, 26 assists), Penn State is built to contend for a championship, but probably not this season.
Michigan (13-18-3): The Wolverines are the defending tournament champion but almost likely will finish below .500 for just fifth time in 77-year-old coach Red Berenson’s 33 years leading the program.
Michigan State (7-23-4): The Spartans and junior goaltender Ed Minney earned a tie and won a shootout against the top-seeded Gophers in the regular-season finale. This confidence booster could be enough to generate an upset.
Big Ten tournament
At Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
(All games on Big Ten Network)
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 6 Michigan State, 3:30 p.m.
No. 4 Penn State vs. No. 5 Michigan, 7 p.m.
No. 2 Wisconsin vs. Ohio State/Michigan State winner, 3:30 p.m.
No. 1 Gophers vs. Penn State/Michigan winner, 7 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 7 p.m.