Michelle McMahon, November 6, 2014
Welcome back Big Ten hockey fans! It?s a big weekend for the second annual Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge as two Big Ten teams face off with their respective Hockey East opponents in a non-conference series. We?re halfway through the challenge.
The Hockey East holds a 16-12 lead heading into the weekend. Here's how they score it: two points for a win, one point for a tie, and a bonus point for winning on the road. With Big Ten Conference victory points at stake, the No. 1 Gophers make their 2014 challenge debut with a home series against No.15 Notre Dame, and Michigan State travels to New Hampshire.
In other non-conference action, Ohio State faces off with No. 19 Nebraska-Omaha and Wisconsin plays host to No. 2 North Dakota. After falling out of the rankings this week, Michigan is off, and so is Penn State.
Let?s look at the upcoming games:
NO. 15 NOTRE DAME AT NO. 1 MINNESOTA – WATCH LIVE
When: 8 p.m. ET Friday; 5 p.m. Sunday Nov. 9
How to watch: Friday?s game airs live on BTN/BTN2Go, Saturday?s game is live on ESPNU
Players to watch: Minnesota junior defensemen Mike Reilly leads the nation in assists per game. All-American goalie Adam Wilcox made 44 saves over two games last weekend. Justin Kloos is now tied for the Big Ten lead in goals.
The latest on the Gophers: After their first loss of the season to in-state rival St. Cloud State, the 5-1-0 Minnesota Gophers remain atop of the USCHO rankings and continues a 15-game winning streak at home-the longest home unbeaten streak in the nation. Last week, sophomore forward Justin Kloos scored one game winner and notched his first career hat trick. Against the Fighting Irish this weekend, the Gophers will be without junior defensemen Brady Skjei, and senior center Travis Boyd due to lower body injuries.
About the opponent: Notre Dame has 10 newcomers looking to replace 11 graduating seniors from last year?s team. It?s a family affair as one key veteran player that may cause trouble for the Gopher defense is the Hockey East/Warrior Player of the month honoree Mario Lucia. He's the son of Gopher coach Don Lucia. The junior left wing has seven goals and two assists in seven games. This youthful group will be tested when the puck drops against the experience and depth of Minnesota.
Conclusion: If the Gophers can pull a sweep, they would contribute four points in favor of their conference in the Big Ten/Hockey East challenge, which ends on Nov. 29.
MICHIGAN STATE AT NEW HAMPSHIRE
When: 7:30 p.m. ET Friday Nov. 7; 7 p.m. ET Saturday Nov. 8
How to watch: Both games air live on Fox College Sports Atlantic
Players to watch: Junior goalie, Jake Hildebrand, who also earned first star of the week honors. Hildebrand stopped 35 of 37 shots and earned a .949 save percentage in last weekend?s split series against No. 15 Ferris State. The junior goaltender has held opponents to two goals or fewer in each of his last four games
The latest on the Spartans: Michigan State looks to balance out their record (2-4-0) and add points for the Big Ten in the Big Ten/Hockey East challenge against unranked New Hampshire. Coach Tom Anastos addressed that the offense productivity needs some improvement; they will continue to work on converting on their scoring chances and getting better on the power play. Michigan State has injuries, too. Junior forward Ryan Keller and senior forward Tanner Sorenson are both out indefinitely with upper body injuries and freshman forward Dylan Pavelek is out with a concussion.
About the opponent: New Hampshire stands out in the defensive zone with their penalty kill percentage at 92.9. UNH is 2-4 overall and 1-1 against the Big Ten so far this season after a split with the Wolverines early on.
In summary: A non-conference series on the road will be a good test for a Spartan group that?s looking to hit their stride.
NO. 2 NORTH DAKOTA AT WISCONSIN – WATCH LIVE
When: 8 p.m. ET Friday Nov. 7; Saturday Nov. 8
How to watch: Friday?s game streams live online on BTN Plus, Saturday?s game airs live on BTN2GO and the Wisconsin Channel
Players to watch: Some potential youthful bright spots for the Wisconsin offense are freshman forwards Cameron Hughes and Adam Rockwood. Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves looks to Rockwood for points while Hughes sees the ice well and has the potential to develop into a key offensive contributor.
The latest on the Badgers: The reigning Big Ten Tournament champions are off to a rough start with 11 seniors gone from last year. Coming off a two-week break, Eaves has had a chance to focus in on their overall five on five play. Eaves said they?ve been working on consistency in their defensive zone coverage and eliminating hesitation with their forechecks in the neutral zone. The question still remains as to who will provide Wisconsin's scoring punch.
About the opponent: North Dakota remains unbeaten in its last six games (ive wins, one tie). Look out for the October rookie of the month Nick Schmaltz to be an offensive threat as he is the fourth-leading rookie scorer in the country.
In summary: It will be telling to watch how the youthful Badger team responds to a veteran team as strong as North Dakota. It would be a tough task for the 0-4 Badgers to take down second-ranked North Dakota, but the games are at Wisconsin's boisterous Kohl Center.
No. 19 NEBRASKA-OMAHA AT OHIO STATE – WATCH LIVE
When: 7 p.m. ET Friday Nov. 7; Saturday Nov. 8
Players to watch: Senior forward Tanner Fritz has a team-best seven points and is tied for the team lead with five assists. Sophomore netminder Matt Tomkins was third star of the week in the Big Ten and owns a 2.18 GAA and .918 save percentage. Senior defensemen Justin DaSilva's 19 blocked shots leads the team.
The latest on the Buckeyes: Ohio State was off to a promising start opening with a split against then No. 3 Providence, but they dropped the next three. The Buckeyes are now 2-3-1 on the season after a tie and win over Canisius College. The Buckeyes have played three OT games out of the first six. The team is averaging 2.5 goals scored but 2.83 goals alllowd per game. On the power play, Ohio State is 5-for-24 and 18-for-21 on the penalty kill. Coach Steve Rohlik says the ticket for OSU this year will be balanced scoring and consistent five-on-five play.
About the opponent: Nebraska Omaha is 4-1-1 overall and coming off a tie and win at then No. 18 Cornell. The Mavericks will be tough to score on with senior goalie Ryan Massa in net – he didn't lose in October and Massa earned NCHC player of the month.
In summary: The Buckeyes have weathered a competitive schedule up to this point, as Nebraska-Omaha is the third ranked team they?ve played in only six games. This is a good opportunity for Ohio State to crack into the rankings.