Come early April, Penn State fans may be calling Happy Valley, Hockey Valley.
The Nittany Lions are unbeaten in their last 13 games and have only suffered one loss in their 15 games on the ice this season.
Penn State’s success is, in large part, due to sophomore forward Andrew Sturtz. Sturtz leads the Nittany Lions in points this season at 15, tallying 13 goals and two assists. However, he would surely be struggling without setup man David Goodwin. The senior forward is tied with Sturtz at 15 points, tallying 14 assists and one goal.
The two players together should strike fear in defensmen across the Big Ten.
However, the Nittany Lions’ defense is also stout. They have allowed 28 goals so far—a mere fraction of the 73 that the squad from State College has scored.
When such a formidable attack is paired with such a dependable defense, championships have to be on the mind. The Nittany Lions are serious contenders for both the Big Ten and NCAA titles this season.
- Jack Kelly
The Wolverines ended last season with an impressive 25-8-5 record after being bounced from the tournament by eventual national champions North Dakota in the second round. This year will be a tough one, however, as Michigan lost nearly two-thirds of their scoring from last year to either graduation or the NHL.
The Wolverines started off the season ranked No. 12 in the nation, but fell out of the top 25 in late October after losing to three straight unranked opponents. Michigan opened Big Ten play last week with a series at No. 6 Penn State, losing game one 6-1 and game two 5-1. They take on the Badgers in Ann Arbor this weekend and will travel to Madison in mid-February.
Michigan is led by freshman forward Will Lockwood, who leads the team in points with 10, and junior forward Tony Calderone, who has already tallied seven goals for the Wolverines. Michigan has split time between three goaltenders this year, with freshman Jack LaFontaine receiving the most amount of time in net.
Michigan is young but talented, and this year will most likely feature plenty of ups and downs.
- Andrew Guckes
The Spartans hope to rebound after a fifth place finish in the conference last year. However, losing top scorer MacKenzie MacEachern to the St. Louis Blues in the NHL draft will be difficult to replace. This is a team that only scored 93 goals last season and continues to struggle offensively, even before the Big Ten games kick off.
After losing key players, the Spartans are remodeling their roster. There is hope, though, that a competitive unit will assemble under head coach Tom Anastos. Ten new freshmen are available for Anastos to experiment with on the ice. These players will have large skates to fill as they must replace not only MacEachern, but goalkeeper Jake Hildebrand and forward Michael Ferrantino as well. Look for returning junior captain Joe Cox to guide the freshmen against an extremely competitive conference.
Their defense, although Zach Osburn has showcased his playmaking, cannot continue its downward trend against conference opponents. If the freshmen can adapt to college play and perform at a high level, perhaps the team’s rebuilding efforts will be worth the wait
- Jonathan Mills
Entering the season unranked and coming off two consecutive losing seasons under head coach Steve Rohlik, few observers inside or outside of Columbus would have picked 2016 as the year Ohio State would end their six-year tournament drought.
Just over two months later, the Buckeyes are in the top 10 of both major polls and are entering the heart of the Big Ten season with a legitimate chance to make the NCAA tournament, and possibly even win a game for the first time in 18 years.
The Buckeyes resurgence has been keyed by a high-flying offense that averages 4.53 goals per game, second in the country behind only conference rivals Penn State. Leading the way for the offense has been the play of two senior wingers, Nick Schilkey and David Gust. The team’s leading scorers last year, Schilkey and Gust have upped their game this season to combine for 23 goals through 15 games, the second-highest scoring tandem in Division 1.
The team’s weakness thus far has been a middling defense that has allowed 2.80 goals per game, 24th in the country. Between the pipes, senior Matt Tomkins has lowered his goals against from 3.87 to 2.60.
The defense will be tested early and often, as OSU’s next four conference games come against No. 3 Penn State. If the Buckeyes are able to make it through that stretch with a win or even two, it could put them in position to contend for the first Big Ten title in program history.
- Cameron Lane-Flehinger
Over the past couple years, Wisconsin has had a losing streak against their border rivals the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers, with the leadership of senior captain Justin Kloos and senior Jake Bischoff, have had a successful start to the season.
When talking about the Gopher’s success this season it is impossible to not mention the powerhouse sophomore forward Tyler Sheehy. Sheehy leads the team with 20 points, consisting of nine goals and 11 assists, which ties the team lead so far this season. His scoring ability earned him the Big Ten First Star of the Week three separate times this season alone. The Badgers must keep a special eye out for Sheehy along with the rest of the team if they hope to overcome their losing streak and come out triumphant in their games January 20 and 21 at home at the Kohl Center.
- Colleen Muraca