Hockey begins third year in the Big Ten

Ben Gotz

After Minnesota took home two regular season Big Ten titles, the coaches of the conference are predicting a change. 
 
The Gophers came in second in the Big Ten preseason coaches poll, with Michigan taking the top spot. 
 
“Michigan was a pretty darn good team last year. They were a little bit inconsistent, and that probably cost them an opportunity at a bid,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “I think they’ll have a real good team.”
 
No. 9 Minnesota will begin its quest for a fifth straight conference title and fifth straight NCAA tournament berth Saturday against Vermont.
 
MINNESOTA
 
2014-15 RECORD: 23-13-3 (12-5-3 BIG TEN)
 
2014-15 CONFERENCE FINISH: 1ST
 
COACHES POLL FINISH: 2ND
 
The Gophers lost more than half their points from last year and their starting goaltender, but there’s still enough talent on campus to compete. 
 
The team will need several returners to take steps forward to fill the gaps, and newcomers like freshman forward Tommy Novak will need to make an impact right away.
 
The biggest question lies in goal though, where the team’s options are sophomore Nick Lehr, freshmen Eric Schierhorn and Brock Kautz, and senior Ryan Coyne.
 
MICHIGAN STATE
 
2014-15 RECORD: 17-16-2 (11-7-2 BIG TEN)
 
2014-15 CONFERENCE FINISH: 2ND
 
COACHES POLL FINISH: 3RD
 
The Spartans lacked firepower last year, but they made up for it with the best player in the conference.
 
Goaltender Jake Hildebrand was named the Big Ten Player of the Year last season, and will return in net to keep Michigan State’s games low-scoring.
 
The team’s offense, led by junior Mackenzie MacEachern, won’t win many shootouts, but Hildebrand will make sure they aren’t in many.
 
MICHIGAN
 
2014-15 RECORD: 22-15-0 (12-8-0 BIG TEN)
 
2014-15 CONFERENCE FINISH: 3RD
 
COACHES POLL FINISH: 1ST
 
The Wolverines lost three of their top-four scorers from last year’s No. 1 offense, but the team still returns plenty of talent.
 
The No. 8 overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft, Zach Werenski, returns to the team’s blue line, and No. 17 overall pick Kyle Connor will join at forward.
 
Scoring shouldn’t be an issue for Michigan; they just need more consistency on defense and in net.
 
PENN STATE
 
2014-15 RECORD: 18-15-4 (10-9-1 BIG TEN)
 
2014-15 CONFERENCE FINISH: 4TH
 
COACHES POLL FINISH: 4TH
 
The Nittany Lions took a step forward in their third year as a hockey program, but a few key losses headlined their offseason.
 
Leading scorer Casey Bailey left early for the NHL, and standout freshman Scott Conway was dismissed for violating team rules.
 
Penn State’s program is trending upwards, but the team still has work to do to reach the top of the conference.
 
OHIO STATE
 
2014-15 RECORD: 14-19-3 (8-11-1 BIG TEN)
 
2014-15 CONFERENCE FINISH: 5TH
 
COACHES POLL FINISH: 5TH
 
Injuries hurt the Buckeyes last year, and now their roster has turned over with 10 freshmen on the team.
 
Junior goaltender Christian Frey will need a bounce back year for the team to be competitive, after failing to build on his rookie campaign last season.
 
Senior forward Anthony Greco will lead the team on offense, after ending last season tied for fifth in the Big Ten in goals.
 
WISCONSIN
 
2014-15 RECORD: 4-26-5 (2-15-3 BIG TEN)
 
2014-15 CONFERENCE FINISH: 6TH
 
COACHES POLL FINISH: 6TH
 
Last season was a nightmare for the Badgers, who went from being ranked No. 10 to start the season to becoming one of the worst teams in college hockey.
 
The team at least had stability at goaltender last year, but with Joel Rumpel graduated the Wisconsin net is wide open.
 
Junior forward Grant Besse will return as the team’s leading scorer, but it will likely take Wisconsin more than one season to turn the program back around.