Michigan Hockey: Starts Anew; Big Ten Inaugural Season Commences — Preview — Part VI
Taking a Peek at the B1G (How I see them finishing):
The Badgers return 22 of 26 from last season’s NCAA tournament team. They are ranked #3 in one early poll and features a balanced roster with high end offensive skill (including Minnesota high school hockey record setter, freshman Grant Besse), blue line strength and solid goaltending. They are the Coaches’ pre-season choice to win the regular season title.
The Gophers are still stinging from their sudden first round NCAA exit at the hands of eventual NC Yale (in Grand Rapids.) Minnesota also lost five top flight players to the NHL early and also has lost an incoming freshman to the OHL. Still, they have talent to burn and an excellent senior goaltender, Adam Wilcox. A seven man freshmen class will contribute right away.
4) Ohio State:
New coach Steve Rohlik leads a team with 14 upperclassmen and a freshman phenom goaltender (Matt Thomkins.)
5) Michigan State:
Tom Anastos is still going to struggle even with his nine returning upperclassmen. The offense should be better with freshmen JT Stenglein, Villiam Haag and MacKenzie MacEachern. Sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand will split time with senior Will Yanakeff.
6) Penn State:
Nine upperclassmen lead the Lions into formal conference play after spending a season at Division I hockey as an independent. A brand new arena and rabid fans await the new program… and sophomore goaltender Matt Skoff will battle freshman (and NHL draftee) Eamon McAdam in net. The Lions are no pushovers, with victories over Wisconsin, MSU and OSU last season.
The Wolverines will have more depth than last season, but could still suffer from the inconsistent offense (although top ten in the NCAA last season) and porous defense that plagued them in the early going last season The keys to this season will be keeping their top six forwards rolling as well as getting solid, not spectacular play out of their defense. The goaltending is a wild card and will be tested early and often with the schedule Michigan has. The Wolverine’s special teams really struggled last season and must improve, especially the PK.
One publication has the Wolverines as 8th in the country, but I fear that is too high considering the talent around the country, especially in the HEA and in the NCHC.
My initial thought is that this season could mirror last season, although it is more justified with the schedule and the new conference. If Michigan’s young talent matures, if the team stays focused and healthy and if the Wolverines can gain early confidence, they could top 20 wins this season. It is more to ask than I think they have, though, so look for this squad to win 17-20 games and narrowly miss another NCAA berth.
The B1G TEN Hockey Conference Tournament will be hosted by the Gophers in Minneapolis next March and will be a single elimination tournament that will include all six schools.
The NCAA National Tournament Semi-finals (Frozen Four) will be hosted in Pittsburgh in April, 2014.
Thanks for reading our entire preview series of the inaugural Big Ten and Michigan Hockey.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Yostmeister
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