You may have noticed a hockey schedule pop up on the board last week. It was posted by WD, which I appreciate as someone who values such staples of existence as our planet orbiting the sun and photosynthesis and the excellence of Oberon and Frita Batidos. Brian mentioned in a recent UV that it’s a much improved schedule, and it is, particularly in terms of the structure of the schedule itself and the calendar placement of games. How to feel about it from the standpoint of competition, though, depends on how much you like returning rivalries and increased Conference play.
This looks different but also vaguely familiar so maybe explain this now. You’re onto something. The conference slate started at the beginning of December in 2016-17, but thanks to the addition of Notre Dame—and the subsequent addition of two conference series—the Big Ten season opens at the end of October in 2017-18. Those four additional conference games leave less space for non-conference tilts, which is a contributing factor in the lack of a team like BU or Union on the schedule. Even so, adding Notre Dame--which finished 13th in PWR, 20th in Corsi, and made last season’s Frozen Four*—is undeniably great. They’re a rival, they’re a top-tier program (read: they won’t be a PWR anchor), and their location allows for a number of Friday/Sunday home-and-home splits. Notre Dame is also young and returns everyone of importance from last season; Michigan doesn’t play them for the first time until January, so they’ll at least have time to get acclimated to Pearson’s system before playing them.
[After THE JUMP: a conference overview, when you’ll be watching both football and hockey, and a look at bye week placement]
What’s the same? If you’re Penn State, quite a bit. They lose David Goodwin, who averaged about a point per game, and 30-point-scorer Vince Pedrie. Denis Smirnov put up 47 points last season (1.21 ppg); he returns, as do three skaters who all scored in the high 30s: Andrew Sturtz, Nate Sucese, and Chase Berger. Peyton Jones, who had an above-average season in his first year on campus, returns to man the PSU net. Penn State finished first in Corsi last year, and there’s little reason to think they’ll slip much this season. They’re going to be difficult for a lightly tested Michigan team to handle when they open the Big Ten season in Happy Valley at the end of October.
If you’re Minnesota, though, not much stays the same. The Gophers lose four of the nine skaters who recorded twenty or more points last season, including the combined 79 points recorded by Justin Kloos and Vinni Lettieri. They do get Eric Schierhorn, one of the better goaltenders in the conference, back.
Wisconsin visits Ann Arbor for the first time next season in mid November, and they’ll be bringing along most of the important pieces from last season’s team that finished two PWR spots outside the tournament. The one piece they did lose, however, was leading scorer Luke Kunin, he of 22 goals and 38 points a season ago.
Like Minnesota, Ohio State will make their way to Ann Arbor without a significant portion of the primary point producers from last year’s tournament team; OSU loses 43% of their skaters who recorded over 20 points a year ago.. Nick Schilkey and David Gust both had 41 points last year and are gone, as are 25 points from blueliner Josh Healey.
Michigan State rears their feather-festooned heads in early December with the usual home-and-home series before a possible GLI matchup. They lose a bunch of guys but also add a bunch of guys so…same? Same. New head coach Danton Cole has a much better shot at making the Spartans watchable again than Anastos did, but I’m dubious about year-one results.
It’s also worth noting that two of Michigan’s potential GLI opponents are old friends; M will open the tournament against former CCHA member Bowling Green, and there’s a chance they could run into Michigan Tech the following game. Both teams were solid Corsi performers last season (BGSU’s ninth-place finish didn’t translate to PWR, where they finished 38th) and both are replacing excellent goaltenders who decided to turn pro.
How much is this going to mess with me watching football? Much of that remains to be seen, as both the Football and hockey schedule are currently presented sans gametimes. We can look at conflicting dates, of which there are always going to be quite a few.
The first comes just two games into Mel Pearson’s tenure, as his team travels to Clarkson (no, sorry, not Clarkston, SE Michiganders) for a one-off contest the same day football hosts Michigan State. Clarkson was mediocre last year, finishing 24th in PWR; they’re a good possession team, though, as they finished 15th in Corsi. Even so, there’s a good chance you’ll be searching for a stream of this one after the fact. Clarkson loses three of the six skaters who put up more than 20 points last season, but they’re a very well balanced team in terms of points and will likely remain a good possession unit.
Michigan hosts Vermont on October 20th and 21st; football travels to Penn State on the 21st. This is hockey’s “marquee” non-conference matchup if we define “marquee” as “non-conference team on the schedule that might be sort of okay.” Vermont finished last season 17th in both PWR and Corsi and beat Michigan 3-0 last season in a late October game on their home ice.
Another potential conflict crops up one week later, as football hosts Rutgers and hockey opens their conference schedule with a trip to Penn State. PSU finished last season ninth in PWR and first in Corsi while pummeling Michigan in Happy Valley by a combined score of 11-2. Michigan did sweep them at Yost the last weekend of the regular season, but then was quickly dispatched by them in the conference tourney. Penn State returns a good deal of talent while Rutgers returns men inexplicably willing to put on shoulder pads and run into other men in the name of fencing the garden or cannons or a whirlwind tour of other B1G campuses or something like that. This might not provide much of a viewing conflict after all.
Football hosts Minnesota while hockey hosts ‘16-17 disappointment Ferris State the weekend of November 4th. Minnesota is significantly less threatening without
first-round pick undrafted Mitch Leidner, while Ferris State was expected to be a borderline tournament team and instead finished 49th in PWR and 35th in Corsi. With both of these games at home, there’s a near-100% chance you’ll be able to walk over to Yost after football.
Michigan hockey hosts rival Minnesota November 10th and 11th, the same weekend football travels to Maryland to face DJ Durkin and his merry band of scat backs. I suppose there could be a conflict here if football tries to hold the game at night, as Maryland was supposed to two seasons ago until a hurricane forced them to move it to the middle of the afternoon. This may have disappointed them from a uniformz perspective; I vaguely remember a Rutgersian effort to black out the stadium or something like that. This is the series that most reminds me of last season’s BU/Iowa conflict where someone interested in both sports had their focus split between a great hockey matchup and football; this is primarily an issue for those who travel to away games.
The next two weekends, however, were made with you in mind, split-athletic-interest person. Hockey and football both travel to Wisconsin the weekend of November 18th, and then both head home to face Ohio State the following week. The scheduling overlap or conflicts or whatever you’d like to call them end with that bit of verisimilitude.
Will there once again be months of inactivity in the middle of the season? No. This schedule is structured nicely for a team that will be adjusting to a new head coach, at least in the fall portion; Michigan gets their first bye week after traveling to St. Lawrence and Clarkson in the beginning of October. Their next time off is the typical study break in the middle of December that intentionally coincides with finals. After that Michigan will play in the GLI before facing weekly conference series until February 23rd and 24th, when Michigan will host Arizona State in what only becomes a concern if it’s not a tune-up for the conference tournament (which is finally taking place at campus sites this season).
*Thank you to David Nasternak for putting together the spreadsheet with opponent PWR, Corsi, and tournament status that was used in writing this.