Detroit — Sure, Minnesota is the team to beat in Big Ten hockey, according to coaches, but Red Berenson believes Michigan is capable of contending for the title and earning an NCAA berth for the first time in three years.
Minnesota won the inaugural Big Ten titles last season, and was voted No. 1 by coaches Wednesday, followed by Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State.
"I've always given the nod to the team that finished the best and they got a lot back," Berenson said. "Minnesota lost three or four players before last season and that's why they had a lot of question marks. (But) their team evolved (lost in the national championship game) despite the guys leaving, and that's what I'm hoping our team will do."
Berenson has one senior forward back this season, Zach Hyman, after Alex Guptill and Phil Di Giuseppe left early.
And, he's confident in his goaltenders, Zach Nagelvoort (11-9-3, 2.20, .929) and Steve Racine (7-4-1, 2.91, .912).
But the key is captain Andrew Copp.
"He is really invested and he knows what's right and what's wrong and he's willing to put out to pay the price to do it himself," Berenson said. "He's a good role model as well as having a good attitude about everything. He's been on the team the last two years when we had our ups and downs and he's learned a lot and seen a lot and he's got a lot to bring to the table and this year."
Copp, a junior, will center a line with JT Compher on the right. Freshman Dylan Larkin, a first-round pick of the Red Wings, will play on a line with Hyman.
Kick-starting MSU offense
Michigan State coach Tom Anastos feels fortunate to have a quality goaltender in Jake Hildebrand (9-15-7, 2.44, .923), but hopes his defensemen do a better job of getting the offense (2.2 goals in 2013-14) started.
"I'm going to force our defense to get more involved in our attack because it's just necessary," Anastos said. "If you don't, you'll struggle to score goals, and that's what happened to us. We need to get pucks in places where we can be successful at the offensive end."
Anastos will look to three players to kick-start the offense — Matt DeBlouw, Tanner Sorenson and Brent Darnell. They combined for 33 goals two seasons ago but managed three total last year.
"We need them to step up," Anastos said. "If they can bounce back and make an impact they'll make the whole team better."
The Gophers return Big Ten player of the year Adam Wilcox (26-6-6, 1.97 GAA, .932 save percentage), along with their top three scorers, Kyle Rau (40 points, 14 goals), Sam Warning (34 points, 14 goals) and Mike Reilly (33 points, nine goals).
"Obviously we had a great year and a big part of it was probably unexpected after the departures we had from the previous season," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "I said when the season began a year ago if we were going to have success we'd have to do it as a team. ... We really didn't know who would step up, and I think our constant was Adam Wilcox, who gave us a chance to win."
... Wisconsin, which returns goaltender Joel Rumpel (21-6-1, 2.07, .929), has 11 freshmen.