With its sweep of Penn State over the weekend, the Ohio State men’s hockey team is now halfway through its first season in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes are currently fourth in the six-team conference, sitting on 13 points, three behind third-place Wisconsin and one ahead of fifth-place Michigan State.
The three teams ahead of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten are all ranked in the top 12 nationally, with both Minnesota and Michigan ranked in the top 10.
OSU coach Steve Rohlik isn’t surprised by the conference’s parity, and said the near identical skill levels mean teams have to be ready to bring their best every weekend.
“Anybody can win on any given night,” Rohlik said after Saturday’s game against Penn State. “We know we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. It’s kind of a ‘one game at a time’ deal.”
So with the second half of the conference campaign remaining, let’s see how the teams stack up:
1. Minnesota (19-2-5, 8-0-2):
The nation’s No. 1 team since late October, Minnesota has been as good as advertised, winning eight of its first 10 conference games. Led by their deep attacking corps and one of the best goaltenders in the nation in sophomore Adam Wilcox — who is ranked No. 9 in the country in average goals allowed per game with 1.96 — the Golden Gophers have the best offense and defense in the Big Ten. Their upcoming road series against Wisconsin, a home and home with Michigan and a road trip to OSU should test the Gophers as the season winds down.
2. Michigan (13-6-3, 5-2-1):
With the stellar play of freshman goalie Zach Nagelvoort — who is ranked fifth in the country in goals allowed per game with 1.91 — the Wolverines have allowed the fewest goals in the Big Ten. The team has shown resiliency of late, going 3-0-1 since two losses at Wisconsin Jan. 10 and 11 capped off a four-game losing streak for coach Red Berenson’s squad. The Wolverines are now poised to challenge Minnesota’s perch atop the rankings and are slated to take on the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis Feb. 14 and 15.
3. Wisconsin (14-8-2, 5-4-1):
Much like the Golden Gophers, the Badgers’ roster includes a number of scorers who make consistent contributions to the cause, including senior forwards Michael Mersch and Mark Zengerle, who are tied for 49th in the country with 24 points. Wisconsin has also succeeded because of the incredible atmosphere in their home arena, the Kohl Center. Only two teams — Alaska-Anchorage and OSU — have come away from Madison with a win this season, meaning the team needs to make the most of the four home games left on its schedule.
4. Ohio State (14-9-1, 4-5-1):
The Buckeyes boast the No. 2-ranked offense in the conference, which is also the ranked fifth in the country. At the heart of their firepower has been junior forward Ryan Dzingel, who leads the Big Ten in goals, points and game-winning goals and is tied for the lead in power play goals with Michigan senior forward Luke Moffatt. Three of OSU’s conference wins have come at home — with the only road win coming against Wisconsin Jan. 25 — so the fact that they host each of the Big Ten’s top three teams at least once down the stretch is a big boost.
5. Michigan State (8-13-14, 2-5-3):
There probably isn’t a team that embodies the competitive nature of the Big Ten more than Michigan State. The Spartans might only have two conference wins, but three of their five losses have come by a single goal, and they have won each of their three conference shootouts. With only one point separating the two teams in the standings, this weekend’s series against OSU is pivotal in determining the direction where the Spartans’ season will go.
6. Penn State (4-17-1, 0-8-0):
Life in the Big Ten was always going to be a struggle for a young hockey program, and it’s proved to be just that for Penn State, which is only in its second year of competitive play. Coach Guy Gadowsky has seen his team hold its own against all of its conference opponents, but the team just hasn’t been able to record that elusive first conference win. The Nittany Lions have eight home games still to play, though, so don’t be surprised to see them play some tight games between now and the end of the season.