The Big Ten Hockey Conference is finally here. When Ohio State meets Michigan on Friday night, it will be in the first conference game for the new conference, and perhaps a look into the future of college hockey. Game time is 7:00pm EST and the game can seen on the Big Ten Network.
Unlike the following day's football game, the Wolverines come into Friday's match-up expected to win the game. The Wolverines have just two losses on the season, and are ranked in the top five in the country in every major poll. The Buckeyes got off to a terrible start to the season, losing their first three games, but have been on a winning streak of since then, taking 8 of their last 9 games, thanks in large part to a very soft non-conference schedule.
Freshman goalie Matt Tompkins(Chicago) is expected to return from injury after missing the past two series for Ohio State with a leg injury. Freshman Logan Davis performed admirably in Tompkins' absence, posting .966 save percetage while Tompkins was out. But playing at Michigan is a little different than facing the cupcakes Ohio State has feasted upon in recent weeks.
MIchigan's goaltending situation isn't settled, but unlike last year, the Wolverines find themselves choosing between two stellar options in goal rather than searching for one. Freshman Zach Nagelvoort played well enough to earn the starting job while sophomore Steve Racine was out with injury, but Racine, who is now healthy, hasn't given any reason to cut his playing time either. It seems likely that the Wolverines will give each goalie one game in this Friday/Monday home-and-home series.
Junior forward Ryan Dzingel(Ottawa) leads the Buckeyes in scoring with 14 points, but their most dangerous offensive line is their "ATM line" of Alex Szczechura-Tanner Fritz-Max McCormick(Ottawa). Fritz led the CCHA in conference scoring this year. He missed five games earlier in the year due to an upper-body injury, but has 10 points in the 7 games he's played in this year.
With the calendar turning over to December, attention starts to turn to the upcoming World Juniors tournament, and Michigan should have a number of candidates in the running to skate for the United States team. It can be easy to forget that sophomore alternate captain Andrew Copp is still eligible for the WJCs because he plays with the maturity of a much older player. He's a natural leader, and has been one of the most pleasant surprises in college hockey over the past year and a half.
Freshmen JT Compher(Buffalo) and Tyler Motte(Chicago) will both be eligible for next year's tournament, but strong starts to their respective college careers have put them into heavy consideration for this year's team. While both have shown some offensive flair this season, it helps that both are hard-working, honest defensive players as well. Sophomore Boo Nieves(New York Rangers) will also be considered, though he likely hasn't made a strong enough case up to this point to make the team.