This past season was nothing short of a success for Big Ten hockey. With three programs making the NCAA regional semifinals — two of which advanced to the Frozen Four — the conference continued to solidify itself as one of the most competitive places to play collegiate hockey.
That success looks to roll on this season as United States College Hockey Online (USCHO) currently lists four Big Ten programs within the top-15 in their first rankings. Not to be overlooked, Penn State also received an honorable mention, coming in at No. 23.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So with that in mind, let’s jump into predicting the final standings and season outlooks for Big Ten hockey’s upcoming season.
1. The Favorites: No. 2 Minnesota
If there was such a thing as a lock in the Big Ten, this is it. After suffering a 5-1 Frozen Four semifinal loss to rival Minnesota State, Minnesota looks ready to compete for another crack at an NCAA title this year. Luckily for the Golden Gophers, they have a full toolkit.
That toolkit starts on the offensive end. Minnesota returns Olympian Matthew Knies. A dominant left-winger, Knies logged 33 points in 33 games last season and will lead a potent scoring attack. Joining Knies are forwards Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud — two sharp pieces with a knack for goalscoring. The three should underscore the best offense in the Big Ten, and potentially, in all of college hockey.
On the back end, the Golden Gophers are nothing to sniff at either. Returning U.S. Olympian and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Brock Faber will headline a strong Minnesota defensive unit. Down the stretch at the end of Big Ten regular season play last year, the Golden Gophers won their final eight games, averaging only 1.375 goals allowed per game. And in net, goaltender Justen Close will man the pipes. With a 1.95 goals against average and a .925 save percentage, Minnesota is most certainly protected in net.
2. The Sleeping Giant: No. 11 Notre Dame
Notre Dame falls on the opposite end of Minnesota. While the Fighting Irish may not have the same talent, they’re certainly no pushover. After losing in the Big Ten semifinals to Michigan, Notre Dame made a Frozen Four push of its own. The Fighting Irish persevered to reach the regional finals, before eventually being eliminated by Minnesota State in a 1-0 battle.
Notre Dame knows its scheme and has a penchant for keeping games close. It lost eight games to Big Ten opponents throughout the regular and postseason last year. Six of those were by two goals or less. The Fighting Irish trust their system, and in college hockey, that can be more dangerous than any single star player.
Notre Dame owns a physical style of hockey that can give teams like Minnesota and Michigan fits. Coupled with 20 players over six feet tall and 24 players over 185 lbs, the Fighting Irish look like a sleeping giant in the loaded Big Ten.
3. The Dark Horse: No. 14 Ohio State
Ranked No. 14 in the initial USCHO preseason poll, the Buckeyes are the most interesting team in the Big Ten. The jack of all trades, they have the size and grit of a Notre Dame, while maintaining a respectable level of talent and playing within a distinct system. Ohio State returns 21 players and is poised to succeed.
And if they indeed reach that success, it will come on the shoulders of one man: Jakub Dobeś. The 2022 Big Ten Goaltender of the year, Dobeś is the real deal. Posting a .934 save percentage last season, he stopped 1,086 shots and looked like a brick wall in net. If the Buckeyes are to finish high in the Big Ten, Dobeś will be the catalyst for it all.
4. The Wildcard: No. 7 Michigan
The Wolverines are not the team they were last season. Michigan comes in at fourth in this ranking not necessarily because it is where they’ll finish, but because of the many questions surrounding this program.
A year ago today, this picture looked much different. The Wolverines were chock full of well-developed talent and had a winning coach at the helm. Now, things aren’t so crystal clear.
No longer will former sophomores Matty Berniers, Kent Johnson and Owen Power dominate Yost every weekend. In their place come headlining freshmen Adam Fantilli and Frank Nazar III, amongst others. While these new players certainly have talent, they lack experience.
Moreover, there’s questions around coaching as well. First year interim head coach Brandon Naurato was selected over the summer to take the helm in the first head coaching position of his career. Naurato is unproven, and until Michigan proves it can compete with the cream of the crop, it’s tough to say where it’ll end up.
5. The Best of the Rest: No. 23 Penn State
However the final three spots in the Big Ten shake out, it won’t be a true representation of that team’s talent. In a loaded conference that grows stronger by the year, there’s no such thing as a cellar-dweller. Any team can win on any given night.
Such is the case for Penn State. Ranked No. 23 as an honorable mention in the USCHO’s Top 20 teams list, the Nittany Lions are no weak unit, yet it’s hard to see them progress to the heights of their in-conference competitors.
Unlike other teams within the Big Ten, Penn State’s identity oscillates based upon personnel. Some seasons, it appears to be closer to the mold of a Minnesota or Michigan, while other years it appears to have the grittier edges of a Notre Dame. This year, the Nittany Lions are more like the latter, and will try to replicate the high scoring offenses of their competitors.
Penn State finished 17-20-1 last season. With a weaker out of conference schedule, look for them to improve, and take games even closer than last year. Just not close enough to finish at the top.
6. Rebuilding: Wisconsin
The 2022-23 Big Ten preseason poll has Wisconsin finishing fourth, yet there’s a good chance that doesn’t materialize. The Badgers finished an abysmal 6-17-1 in Big Ten play last season, scoring a tepid 2.1 goals per game. In the high-flying conference, that just won’t cut it.
Wiscon’s defense will most likely be the brighter spot of the team. Returning goaltender Jared Moe will be back between the pipes. Moe notched 894 saves last year, while maintaining under a 3.00 goals against average. Look for Moe to lead the Badgers this season.
7. The Brightest Future: Michigan State
Michigan State won’t win anything this year, but it is certainly moving in the right direction. The Spartans finished 12-23-1 overall last season, but after hiring coach Adam Nightingale, they could be a competitor for years to come. Nightingale previously coached the US NTDP and looks to continue that success in East Lansing.
Already, Nightingale has flipped elite goaltending prospect Trey Augustine from Michigan to Michigan State. If trends like these continue, the Spartans will have the talent and the coaching to be one of the premier Big Ten teams in the near future.
For now though, Michigan State will have to settle for a period of adjustments and losses while Nightingale integrates his style of coaching and players into the fold.
However the final standings turn out, this upcoming season will be one of the most competitive in Big Ten history. In previous years, Minnesota and Michigan’s professional talent has shone through. In others, Notre Dame’s physicality has dominated the scene. All the while, a dark horse candidate can wait in the wings. Together, it’s shaping up to be another exciting season of Big Ten play.