Gophers men’s hockey set to begin Big Ten schedule

Minnesota kicks off conference play at home this weekend versus Ohio State.

Senior forward Vinni Lettieri looks to steal the puck on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers tied 5-5 against the University of North Dakota.

Chris Dang, Daily File Photo

Senior forward Vinni Lettieri looks to steal the puck on Friday, Nov. 4, 2016 at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers tied 5-5 against the University of North Dakota.

Drew Cove

The beginning to this season’s battle with a familiar foe starts this Friday.

No. 11 Minnesota (6-4-2) opens their first weekend series of the season against No. 10 Ohio State (8-1-4), the Gophers first conference opponent all season.

“They’re a veteran team,” said head coach Don Lucia. “I voted them to win the league, and whether it’s two senior goaltenders, a veteran [defense corps], all their guys returning up-front … they’re kind of where I thought they would be this year.”

Ohio State dominated its non-conference schedule, going 8-1-4.

The Buckeyes come into the weekend at Mariucci Arena with three of the top-50 scorers in the nation. Minnesota has just one.

Forward Tyler Sheehy committed to Ohio State in 2013, but shortly after, he reversed his decision and came to Minnesota. Now, he has 15 points in 12 games this season and is the Gophers’ leading scorer.

Sheehy has played five games against the Buckeyes and already has 10 points in those games.

In the past three seasons, Minnesota and Ohio State have faced off 15 times. These games range from the Hockey City Classic played at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014, to the Big Ten Tournament each of the past three years.

Minnesota comes into this series having dominated the first three years of the conference matchup. The Gophers are 12-2-1 against the Buckeyes over those three seasons.

Even strength scoring for the Gophers has been a challenge the last few weeks, with just two of the nine goals scored in the last four games at even strength.

“We’re trying to limit our turnovers on the blue line,” said forward Vinni Lettieri. “You can’t really just win off of power plays, so being a good five-on-five team is very important.”

In Boston, Minnesota turned its even strength fortunes around. The Gophers scored eight goals over the two games, seven of which in five-on-five play.

Big Ten Conference Preview

The Big Ten opens up conference play this weekend. Here is some background about each team in the conference.

The teams are ordered based on their regular season finish in the standings in 2015-16.

Minnesota

Minnesota was the Big Ten regular season champion last year, but failed to make the NCAA Tournament. The only major piece to depart the Gophers after last year was forward Hudson Fasching, who scored 20 goals.

Goaltender Eric Schierhorn had rough outings on the first night of a series so far this season, but has come back to rebound with a dominant performance on the second night.

Michigan

Michigan was the Big Ten Tournament champion last season and had the best overall record of the conference’s six teams.

Michigan’s prolific “CCM”, scoring line, consisting of forwards JT Compher, Kyle Connor, and Tyler Motte, was disbanded, as all three forwards departed the Wolverines’ program for professional careers.

The Wolverines come into the first week of conference play ranked No. 20.

Penn State

The Nittany Lions are off to a hot start in their non-conference schedule with a record of 11-1-1. Leading the way in scoring is freshman forward Denis Smirnov, who has nine goals and 13 assists in 13 games.

They have a goal differential of more than double with 62 goals in 13 games, while only allowing 26 over that same span.

Penn State comes into the first week of conference play ranked No. 7.

Ohio State

Ohio State finished conference play at .500 in 2015-16, but is off to a fast start in non-conference play this season.

The Buckeyes have a record of 8-1-4 through non-conference play. Their leader in goals is forward Nick Schilkey with 12 goals in 13 games.

The Buckeyes start the conference play ranked in the top ten, having only lost one game all season so far, at No. 10.

Michigan State

Michigan State finished fifth in the conference last year. The Spartans lost most of their games last year, and only scored 93 goals over the course of the season — tied for last in the conference with Wisconsin.

Michigan State this season with renewed confidence, though, after just beating and tying No. 9 North Dakota.

Wisconsin

Tony Granato comes his first season as Wisconsin’s head coach, and looks to improve a Badgers team that has struggled in recent seasons.

Wisconsin went 7-5-0 in non-conference play, and has a promising, young sophomore captain in Luke Kunin. In 12 games, Kunin has seven goals and five assists, which is third in points for the Badgers.