With the college hockey season slated to begin later this week, the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team released the first chunk of their schedule. This unique season will include 24 Big Ten games as well as four games against Arizona State. With only the first half of the schedule released, it is clear that the Big Ten is learning from the mistakes they made with football and leaving room for rescheduling for virus-related issues. Let’s break down the six opponents in the Badgers’ first chunk of their schedule.
The Badgers open the season with a weekend series in South Bend Nov. 13 and 14. Last year, the two teams split the series with both taking two games apiece. This Notre Dame team is full of experience, especially on the back end. Led by junior Spencer Stastney and senior Matt Hellickson, the Fighting Irish will have one of the better blue lines in all of college hockey. In the Big Ten preseason poll, Notre Dame was picked to finish tied for third just ahead of Wisconsin. Going on the road to play an experienced Notre Dame club will be quite the test for the Badgers to start their season.
Unfortunately for Wisconsin, it only gets harder in week two, when the Badgers welcome the Wolverines to Madison for their home opener. Michigan is projected to finish second in the Big Ten, and they are one of the best teams in the entire country. They return the reigning Big Ten Goaltender of the Year in Strauss Mann, one of the best defensemen in the country in Cam York, their co-leading scorer from a year ago, John Beecher and last year’s Defenseman of the Year in the USHL and projected first-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Owen Power. The Wolverines are absolutely stacked and will provide a tough challenge in the Badger’s home-opening weekend.
With just two days off between games, Wisconsin will host Penn State Nov. 23 and 24 at the LaBahn Arena. The Nittany Lions, who are the reigning Big Ten champs, will come to Madison fresh off a Thursday-Friday series with Minnesota. Despite owning a worse roster on paper, Penn State has found more success than Wisconsin in recent years because they and play hockey at a high level and avoid mistakes.
Led by senior Alex Limoges, Penn State has a solid group of experienced forwards. Limoges is their star and the No. 7 scoring player in program history with 103 career points. Limoges was named to the preseason First-Team All-Big Ten, and on the watch list for many major awards. Limoges is one of the brightest stars in the country, and certainly a man the Badgers will need to contain if they want to take down Penn State.
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After a few days off, the homesteading Badgers will welcome the Big Ten’s honorary members for the 2020-21 season to Madison. Arizona State is an experienced bunch with a high-caliber offense. They return their top two scorers from a year ago with James Sanchez (40 points) and Johnny Walker, whose 60 career goals are the most by an active player in college hockey. In addition, they welcome in former Wisconsin fan-favorite Sean Dhooghe, a man who led the Badgers in scoring two seasons ago. Arizona State hockey is about as exciting of a team as there is in college hockey. They will serve as an interesting test for Wisconsin and it is certainly a series that many Badger fans are looking forward to.
After three straight home series, the Badgers will return to the road and take on preseason No. 10 Ohio State. The Buckeyes are stacked with young talent, and they couple this youth with experience led by 2019 Big Ten Goalie of the Year Tommy Nappier. Nappier has an astounding 2.04 goals against average and a .932 save percentage in his career. These two games will be a challenge for the Badgers as going on the road in the Big Ten is never easy, even without fans.
The Badgers will wrap up the first half of their season on the road in East Lansing against the Michigan State Spartans. Last year the Badgers went a disappointing 1-2-1 against Michigan State and will look for revenge against one of the weaker teams in the conference. While Michigan State is not one of the more talented teams in the Big Ten, they do have a superstar manning their blue line. Dennis Cesana is preseason first-team All-Big Ten and one of the most talented defensemen in the country. These are two games that Wisconsin should win on paper, but as mentioned, the Badgers have struggled against Sparty in recent years.
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While we do not know the exact layout of the rest of the schedule, we can assume there will be more room included at the end of the schedule in case there is a need for postponements and rescheduling for virus-related reasons.