The six Big Ten teams beat up each other throughout the regular season, and it might cost college hockey’s “Power 5” conference on selection Sunday. No team is guaranteed an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, and all will be fighting for the conference’s automatic bid this weekend at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The Gophers are the Big Ten’s best chance at claiming an automatic bid for the NCAA tournament, but they still have a lot of work to do. They’re on the bubble entering Friday afternoon’s semifinal and likely need to win at least one game to extend their season beyond this weekend. The Gophers are 10-3-1 since hitting a low point in their season after the North Star College Cup and are coming off a sweep of Penn State with the Big Ten regular-season title on the line. The senior leadership is convinced the team is peaking at the right time.
(5) Ohio State
The Buckeyes continue to be dangerous in the Big Tens. They survived the quarterfinal round for the second year in a row, earning another chance to upset the top-seeded Gophers. Last season’s Big Ten runner-up has plenty of momentum again, riding a four-game unbeaten streak and losing only once in the past seven games. Now that injuries are no longer a problem for the Buckeyes, they’ve been consistent offensively and defensively, scoring 24 goals and giving up just 13 over the past four weekends, including Thursday’s 3-1 victory over Penn State.
(2) Michigan State
The Spartans missed out on a chance to win the Big Ten regular-season title last weekend but recovered to claim the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a 2-1 road win against Michigan. The victory closed a 7-3 run in the second half of Big Ten play that included three wins in series finales after significant letdowns in the opening game. The Spartans have Big Ten Player of the Year Jake Hildebrand in the net. He gave up 39 goals with a .940 save percentage and had five shutouts in 20 conference games. A hot goalie could be the Spartans’ ticket to the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for a third straight year after a run of 22 consecutive appearances. Michigan got by No. 6 seed Wisconsin without a problem in Thursday night’s quarterfinal and advanced to face rival Michigan State on Friday night. The Spartans spoiled the Wolverines’ chance to claim a share of the Big Ten regular-season title last weekend. Michigan showcases the nation’s best offense but needs to be better defensively if it hopes to get by Michigan State and make a run.