Big Ten Breakdown: Fighting Irish disrupt the system

Thursday, October 19, 2017 - 5:40pm

The Michigan hockey team is surrounded by talent in the Big Ten, as four teams in the conference are ranked in the Top 20.

The Michigan hockey team is surrounded by talent in the Big Ten, as four teams in the conference are ranked in the Top 20. Buy this photo
Ryan McLoughlin/Daily

Michigan opens up Big Ten play in State College against Penn State next weekend, while other teams have already had their conference debuts. The Big Ten is rife with storylines this season, as the Wolverines will look to redeem themselves after last season’s loss to the Nittany Lions in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. 

Despite Penn State’s upset over No. 8 Minnesota in the 2017 Big Ten Tournament semifinals last season, the Golden Gophers are looking keen to avenge that upset this year as coach Don Lucia boasts an eclectic mix of talented young phenoms and seasoned veterans.

Most notably for the Big Ten, Notre Dame joins conference play as the seventh affiliate. The Fighting Irish were a part of the WCHA and CCHA from 1971-1981 and 1992-2012, respectively, two conferences in which a collection of Big Ten programs also competed in. The Daily breaks down the 2017 rendition of the Big Ten conference.

No. 6 Wisconsin

The Badgers (1-1 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) are coming off a heartbreaking double-overtime loss to the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten Championship game last season.

However, Wisconsin clearly is not dwelling in the past, as its versatile offense is putting on a clinic, scoring first in all five of its games this year. Having their best start since 2004, the Badgers are challenging the preseason notion that Minnesota will be the dominant force in the conference.

Forward Seamus Malone notched his first two goals of the season this past weekend, but of the nine goals Wisconsin tallied in total, eight Badgers were responsible. Defender Wyatt Kalynuk also represents the shut-down defense as the best shot-blocker in the nation with 14 blocked shots.

No. 8 Minnesota

The touted frontrunners of the conference, the Golden Gophers (1-1, 2-2) already had a chance to seek revenge on Penn State this past weekend. But they split the contests, falling 3-1 on Friday, and narrowly escaping the formidable Nittany Lion attack Saturday, 6-3.

Forward Brannon McManus stepped into the spotlight in Minnesota’s win Saturday with three goals in the third period, almost single-handedly saving the Golden Gophers from early humiliation.

At the onset of the season, Minnesota was ranked third in the nation according to USCHO polls. With four members of the Golden Gopher squad on the Big Ten Preseason Watch List, Minnesota’s team is undoubtedly talented.

Forward Tyler Sheehy returns this season as a captain after a ground-shattering performance last season. Sheehy was named a First Team All-American and won the Big Ten Player of the Year award. With his experience, paired with McManus’ high-energy start to the season, the Gophers have a well-rounded squad eager to make a statement on the national scale.

Ohio State

The Buckeyes (1-1, 1-1-2) wasted no time in starting Big Ten play, facing off against Wisconsin and adding a win and a loss to their record.

Despite falling early in the NCAA Tournament last season – a tournament it had not made since 2009 – Ohio State returns 15 upperclassmen, bolstering its proficient offense and effective power play.

Last season, the Buckeyes’ 31.6 percent power-play conversion rate ranked highest in the NCAA, and their 3.92 goals per game ranked third.

All-American and First Team All-Big Ten forward Mason Jobst and forward Matthew Weiss headline the Ohio State offense.

No. 11 Penn State

The reigning Big Ten Tournament champion Nittany Lions (1-1, 2-2) entered the season ranked 10th, and were picked to finish fourth in the conference. Most notably, they were also tapped to finish fourth last season and ended up beating out the rest of the pool for a Big Ten Tournament title.

Goaltender Peyton Jones and forward Denis Smirnov, both named to the Big Ten Preseason Watch List, lead Penn State. Jones already flaunts 95 saves this season and Smirnov leads the team with three goals.

With most of the Nittany Lion squad returning from its tournament championship run last season, it is looking to bring a new hard-nosed mentality to the ice to redeem itself after an NCAA Tournament loss to eventual national champion Denver.

No. 5 Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish (2-1) are stepping onto the Big Ten stage, ready to upset the ebbs and flows that make up a regular Big Ten season. Already predicted to finish second in the conference, Notre Dame is looking to put its team depth to work to make a statement for the future.

With seven seniors returning, including Big Ten Preseason Watch List defenseman Jordan Gross, the Fighting Irish are taking a top-down approach that will involve all members of an assorted and dangerous squad.

Forwards Jake Evans and Andrew Oglevie join Gross on the same list, whose prowess was put on display in Notre Dame’s opening two wins over Alabama-Huntsville. The Fighting Irish debut in the Big Ten on Nov. 3rd.

Michigan State

Much like the triumphant return of Michigan coach Mel Pearson, the Spartans’ prodigal son in coach Danton Cole returns for his first season as the Michigan State head coach. Cole won a national championship with the Spartans in 1986 while a player on the team.

Under new management, Michigan State has a lot to prove but has a chip on its shoulder. Predicted to finish last in the Big Ten and sporting 19 underclassmen – the fourth youngest roster in the nation – the Spartans will most likely have trouble with some of the other more experienced teams in the conference.

Last season, Michigan State averaged 3.83 goals against and 2.40 goals for, which pale in comparison to those same statistics for other members of the Big Ten. In order to compete at a level worthy of a high ranking in the Big Ten, Cole will have to instill new values and reorganize the team’s structure.