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Early Impressions of the Big Ten

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Luke Kunin Eric Schierhorn (Nicole Haase) Nicole Haase/Bucky’s Fifth Quarter

We spend a considerable amount of time before each season analyzing( and by analyzing I mean guessing) what each team will look like when the puck drops in October. But no battle plan ever survives first contact with the enemy. Now that we’ve gotten a tiny taste of what each team can do , it’s time to recalibrate those preseason expectations.

We’ll start with the Big Ten. Overall, it’s been a good start to the season for the Big Ten. By Year Four of The Grand Experiment, everyone has pretty much given up on the pre-B1G doomsday scenarios of all six teams dominating the rest of college hockey because.....football.....for.....reasons. They’ve settle into a groove where they’ll have one NCAA tournament caliber team, and another one or two teams kind of on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but usually on the wrong side. And so far, that’s more or less the case this year. They’re slightly better than .500 in early non-conference play, which is good, but not spectacular.

Here’s how I had the six teams ranked prior to the season, along with whether their early season play has raised my expectations of them or lowered them.

  1. Minnesota

I expected the Gophers to be strong enough to win the Big Ten this year, but they were mostly my choice for lack of any other option. I didn’t stay up for their games in Alaska—and I’m not sure either Alaska school is good enough to be much barometer this year—but I came away very impressed from their 9-0 win over the NTDP. Their upcoming series against St. Cloud State will be their first real test, and should be an interesting series, but so far, I like what I see out of Minnesota and I think they’ll be nationally relevant this year.

Up or down from preseason expectation? Up.

2. Wisconsin

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of Wisconsin heading into the season. I strongly believe Tony Granato and staff will turn Wisconsin’s program back into a contender eventually, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to do it right away. Results so far have been mixed, splitting with Northern Michigan and Boston College. They’re already playing a much more open game. With 16 goals, they’re over a quarter of the way to matching their offensive output for all of 2014-2015. It’s going to be a better year for Wisconsin this year, and be a lot more fun to watch, but they’re not at a point yet where they’re ready to compete for an NCAA Tournament bid.

Up or down from preseason expectations? Slightly down from a probably-unfair starting point.

3. Michigan

Three weeks ago, I would have said coming out of the gate with a 2-1-0 record in two games vs. Union and one at Ferris State would be an automatic upgrade of expectations. But Ferris State is winless in five games and Union backed up their trip to Ann Arbor with some real struggles against American International and Sacred Heart. So maybe those wins don’t mean much? The offense isn’t the same as last year, as we all expected, but the defense seems much improved. They’ve only allowed five goals over three games, and their two freshmen goalies have only given up one goal combined. Michigan may be joining the modern ranks of playing boring, defensive hockey.

Up or down from preseason expectations? Up, but with a tiny question mark.

4. Ohio State

Ohio State was a trendy pick in the Big Ten this year because they returned a lot of talent from last year’s team. I was less convinced, just based on their recent history. But they’re off to a solid start to the year. That first-game victory over Denver is going to look really nice at the end of the year. I don’t think they’ll be consistent enough to get into the NCAA Tournament, but I could see them spending much of the second half of the year on the bubble.

Up or down from preseason expectations? Up from a starting point that was probably too low.

5. Penn State

Penn State is off to a decent start with a split against St. Lawrence and a win over Mercyhurst. After watching Brandon Wildung frustrate NHL players all summer, I really did not see Penn State hanging a touchdown on him. But this has kind of been Penn State’s M.O. the past few years. They build up a strong record playing ECAC and Atlantic Hockey teams—which admittedly makes scheduling sense from a geographic standpoint—and then they struggle in the second half of the season to hold that position. I’m not convinced they’re a great team, but 2-5 in this conference looks pretty equal with Penn State being in that mix. This weekend’s series at Notre Dame should tell us a lot more about the Nittany Lions.

Up or down from preseason expectations? Mostly the same, but up if I had to choose one.

6. Michigan State

Really, what can you even say about the Spartans that hasn’t already been said about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7? I’ve been a staunch supporter of the theory that Lake Superior State was going to be decent this year, but even still, Michigan State got absolutely trounced by them. This is going to be one of the worst teams in college hockey this year.

Up or down from preseason expectations? Down, and I’m not even sure how that was possible.