Big Ten Hockey: Badgers open inaugural season as league favorites

Michael Mersch, Mark Zengerle, Nic Kerdiles and Jake McCabe are individual Badgers on the Big Ten's "Players to Watch" list.

Big Ten hockey media day kicked off Thursday with an announcement that the league's coaches voted Wisconsin as the preseason favorite to win the inaugural Big Ten Hockey championship.

The Badgers are followed by Minnesota, Michigan and a tie between Michigan State and Ohio State for fourth. Penn State, in just its second season of varsity hockey, was picked to finish last.

Wisconsin's place at the top doesn't come as too much of a surprise. The Badgers went on quite the run last season,  culminating in a WCHA playoff championship. The core of that team came back to Madison, with over 80 percent of the scoring returning, as well as 16 upperclassmen.

Wisconsin's veteran depth was too much to overlook, according to new Ohio State head coach Steve Rohlik.

"It's been a long time since (Wisconsin) has had a lot of guys return as seniors," Rohlik said. "And certainly they've proven themselves last year. So, I think it's a safe bet that they are the favorites in our league, and Minnesota is right behind them."

The Badgers return nine seniors on the roster this season, including six up front at forward. When asked if the media was overstating the importance of Wisconsin's veteran depth, Michigan head coach Red Berenson came back with a quick retort.

"I've always said, you're as good as your senior class," Berenson said. "I think that answers your question. If your seniors are the leaders and the dominant players on your team, then you have a chance to have a good season. That will bring your younger players up a lot quicker and bring them into plays, and it will set the example for them.

"I agree with Wisconsin being picked coming in. I mean, they looked really good on paper. They have a good returning group."

Four individual Badgers were singled out by the league Thursday, as well. Seniors Mark Zengerle and Michael Mersch, along with junior Jake McCabe and sophomore Nic Kerdiles, were named to the Big Ten's "Players to Watch" list.

Minnesota's Kyle Rau was the only unanimous selection. The other players to watch include Mac Bennett (Michigan), Alex Guptill (Michigan), Matt Berry (Michigan State), Jake Hildebrand (Michigan State), Mike Reilly (Minnesota), Adam Wilcox (Minnesota), Ryan Dzingel (Ohio State) and Max McCormick (Ohio State).

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