Michigan State men’s ice hockey began the 2022-2023 season with a new head coach in Adam Nightingale and a new regime. Meanwhile, the Big Ten looks very strong this year. Minnesota and Michigan have teams of all-stars; Notre Dame looks to compete with both of those.
For Michigan State, it’s uncertain if the program will rise above Notre Dame or Ohio State. Wisconsin, Penn State and MSU were all at the bottom of the Big Ten last season. Minnesota is hoping to defend its Big Ten crown.
Perhaps we might fare better with predictions if we lay out our projections of where all of the Big Ten teams will finish.
Minnesota has too much talent.
On offense, the Golden Gophers have lost Ben Meyers to the Colorado Avalanche, Blake McLaughlin to the Anaheim Ducks and Sammy Walker to the Minnesota Wild. However, the team has gained Logan Cooley and Jimmy Snuggerud.
Last season, Michigan State lost all four games against Minnesota. This includes two home games it lost by scores of 4-1 and 6-3, respectively.
Seven of Minnesota’s players on this season’s squad have been taken in the first two rounds of the NHL Draft. Compare that with MSU’s roster that has four drafted players total.
After goaltender Jack LaFontaine was picked up by the Carolina Hurricanes mid-season last year, Minnesota was left without a starting goalie. No one knew who Justen Close was prior to LaFontaine’s departure, but everyone knows him now as a top goalie in the nation.
The Gophers have started the season at 4-2. Both losses have come against top-10 teams, to Minnesota State and in overtime to North Dakota.
Michigan men’s ice hockey offseason was filled with scandal as head coach Mel Pearson was accused of forcing players to lie on COVID-19 contact-tracing forms. He also allegedly created a hostile work environment, among other issues.
Enter interim head coach Brandon Naurato.
Naurato was an assistant coach on Michigan’s staff during the 2021-2022 season. He’s also held jobs with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit.
It’s unclear as to when Michigan will name its new full-time head coach but for now, the program is rolling with Naurato at the helm. Personally, I don’t think he is Michigan’s first-choice. Recruiting at Michigan is a big deal and I don’t see Naurato’s experience fitting in here. Likely, they’ll go with an outside hire.
That’s not to say Michigan’s team isn’t good. There is some serious talent on this roster.
Freshman Adam Fantilli is about to blow everyone’s mind. He is probably the best player in the country in his class (2004) and could’ve been taken No. 1 overall in the NHL Draft this year if he was eligible.
Two drafts ago, Michigan had four players taken in the top-five of the NHL Draft. This program still knows how to recruit and develop the best talent in hockey. Both Matty Beniers and Owen Power are starting to make their presence known in the NHL. Look for more supreme talent to develop this season.
The Wolverines are 5-1 to start the season. UM has been completely dominant, scoring five goals in all but two of its games, including a 9-2 win against No. 9 Boston.
3. Notre Dame
The only question for Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana is in goal, actually.
Ryan Bischel has pretty good numbers for the Fighting Irish. Last season, Bischel played in 16 games and had a goals-against-average of 2.08, plus a save percentage of .924.
Notre Dame is returning several key players including Trevor Janicke, Landon Slaggert and Ryder Rolston. Transfers Drew Bavaro, Jackson Pierson and Chayse Primeau will be key additions for the Irish.
Michigan State did win one contest against Notre Dame last season. In a 1-0 overtime victory just before break, goaltender Drew DeRidder looked outstanding. Mitchell Lewandowski ended up scoring the game-winning goal.
So far, Notre Dame is 3-2-1 with wins against Northern Michigan twice and once against Western Michigan. Goaltending still raises a big question mark as the Irish tied Air Force and gave four goals to both Denver and Western Michigan.
4. Ohio State
The Buckeyes barely missed an NCAA playoff berth last season. Part of that success is due to goaltender Jakub Dobes, who many will consider him to be the best goaltender in the country.
I don’t watch enough of the other conferences to see if that’s true or not.
One of Ohio State’s goal leaders, Georgii Merkulov, signed with the Boston Bruins in the offseason. His performance was so good that more than 35 percent of his shots made it to the back of the net. You cannot replace that type of production.
However, Cam Thiesing and Gustaf Westlund are both back. Plus, even if Ohio State’s offense dips, Dobes can help out on the other end of the ice.
5. Michigan State
Instead of picking where Michigan State will finish based on best- or worst-case scenario, I’ve gone with something more in the middle. I view this as more pragmatic than any other prediction.
At best, the Spartans will compete with Notre Dame and fight for a spot near the top of the Big Ten. At MSU’s worst, the team probably falls somewhere between Penn State and Wisconsin.
Don’t get me wrong, this team looks significantly better, so far, than it did last season. After a sweep of Long Island this past weekend, including an eight-goal performance on Saturday night, MSU fans are high on the team this season.
There is merit to that, too. The players look quicker, faster and far more competent. Mistakes are being made less.
Freshman forwards such as Daniel Russell, Tiernan Shoudy and Karsen Dorwart have been very productive to start the season. Plus, transfers like Miroslav Mucha and Justin Jallen have been helpful. All of these combinations, with the included returning veterans of the Krygier twins (Cole and Christian) and players like Jagger Joshua, make this a very fun season for Michigan State hockey.
Nicolas Müller hasn’t scored much, but he’s easily been one of the top playmakers on this team. He has six points through six games, tied for second on the team.
6. Penn State
Penn State is the only Big Ten team that is undefeated before Big Ten play, albeit against weak opponents. This past weekend, the Nittany Lions escaped with an overtime win against bottom-feeders St. Thomas.
Kevin Wall will be a points-leader for the Nittany Lions and transfer Ashton Calder should really be able to supplement PSU’s roster.
Goaltending could be an issue, though. PSU adds freshman goaltender Noah Grannan, who started one game so far. He gave up five goals on 28 shots to Canisius, which is not ideal. Last season, he had a sub-.500 save percentage in the USHL, which is also not ideal. Another option for Penn State is junior Liam Souliere. He has started three games for Penn State and has a 2.01 goals-against-average.
Doug Dorr is a junior with one game of experience in two seasons.
I would expect Souliere to be the main starter this season, but he hasn’t proven anything.
Wisconsin football just fired its head coach Paul Chryst after its 2-3 start. Eyes can now point toward its head coach of the men’s ice hockey team, Tony Granato. Some Wisconsin fans want him gone as early as right now.
Chryst had $20 million left on his deal. That’s a lot of dead money for a guy who isn’t working. Granato’s buy-out looks like it was $2.4 million, but the university hasn’t discussed what that has been amended to. I would be surprised if the university wants to have two coaches out of jobs like that. To complicate things further, Wisconsin extended Granato’s contract through the 2026-2027 season in the spring despite the team’s struggles. So no, it does not look good in Madison.
The Badgers won six Big Ten games last season, including two at home to last-place Michigan State. The Badgers’ power-play is horrible, the team is struggling to score goals. The penalty could not be worse. There aren’t many good things to say about this team.
I fully expected both Michigan State’s Danton Cole, as well as Granato, to be relieved of their duties during this past offseason. That obviously happened with Cole, but not Granato. He remains on the hot seat, though.
Wisconsin lost its first four games of the season, but rebounded last week with a very surprising sweep of No. 10 Minnesota-Duluth.
Michigan State men’s ice hockey 2022-23 schedule
|Oct. 7||Bowling Green Falcons||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+||Home Opener||L 1-3|
|Oct. 8||at Bowling Green Falcons||Bowling Green, Ohio||7 p.m.||FloHockey||W 2-1|
|Oct. 13||UMass-Lowell River Hawks||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+||W 4-3|
|Oct. 14||UMass-Lowell River Hawks||East Lansing, Mich.||7:30 p.m.||BTN+||2007 National Champ. Reunion||L 2-3|
|Oct. 21||Long Island Sharks||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+||W 3-1|
|Oct. 22||Long Island Sharks||East Lansing, Mich.||6 p.m.||BTN+||W 8-4|
|Oct. 28||at Notre Dame Fighting Irish||South Bend, Ind.||7:30 p.m.||Peacock|
|Oct. 29||at Notre Dame Fighting Irish||South Bend, Ind.||6 p.m.||Peacock|
|Nov. 4||Wisconsin Badgers||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Nov. 5||Wisconsin Badgers||East Lansing, Mich.||TBA||BTN+|
|Nov. 10||Ohio State Buckeyes||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Nov. 11||Ohio State Buckeyes||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Nov. 18||at Penn State Nittany Lions||University Park, Pa.||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Nov. 19||at Penn State Nittany Lions||University Park, Pa.||TBA||BTN+|
|Nov. 25||at Miami (OH) Red Hawks||Oxford, Ohio||7 p.m.||NCHC TV|
|Nov. 26||at Miami (OH) Red Hawks||Oxford, Ohio||5 p.m.||NCHC TV|
|Dec. 2||Minnesota Golden Gophers||East Lansing, Mich.||6:30 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Dec. 3||Minnesota Golden Gophers||East Lansing, Mich.||TBA||Big Ten Network|
|Dec. 9||Michigan Wolverines||East Lansing, Mich.||6:30 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Dec. 10||at Michigan Wolverines||Ann Arbor, Mich.||6:30 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Dec. 27||vs. Ferris State Bulldogs||Grand Rapids, Mich.||7 p.m.||TBA||Great Lakes Invitational|
|Dec. 28||vs. MTU/WMU||Grand Rapids, Mich.||TBA||TBA||Great Lakes Invitational|
|Jan. 6||at Ohio State Buckeyes||Columbus, Ohio||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Jan. 7||at Ohio State Buckeyes||Columbus, Ohio||4 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Jan. 13||Penn State Nittany Lions||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Jan. 14||Penn State Nittany Lions||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Jan. 27||at Minnesota Golden Gophers||Minneapolis, Minn.||8 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Jan. 28||at Minnesota Golden Gophers||Minneapolis, Minn.||5 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Feb. 3||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BTN+|
|Feb. 4||Notre Dame Fighting Irish||East Lansing, Mich.||4 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Feb. 10||Michigan Wolverines||East Lansing, Mich.||7 p.m.||BSD PLUS||Senior Day|
|Feb. 11||vs. Michigan Wolverines||Detroit, Mich.||8 p.m.||ESPNU||Duel In the D|
|Feb. 17||at Wisconsin Badgers||Madison, Wisc.||9 p.m.||Big Ten Network|
|Feb. 18||at Wisconsin Badgers||Madison, Wisc.||8 p.m.||BSW/BSD PLUS|
|March 3-5||TBA||TBA||TBA||TBA||Big Ten Tournament: Quarterfinals|
|March 11||TBA||TBA||TBA||TBA||Big Ten Tournament: Semifinals|
|March 18||TBA||TBA||TBA||TBA||Big Ten Tournament: Championship|