ST. PAUL, Minn. (UW Athletics) -- Wisconsin has been chosen as the preseason favorite for the inaugural season of Big Ten hockey as voted on by the coaches, the conference announced on Thursday. The coaches also selected a Preseason Players to Watch list, with four Badgers leading the way.
The Badgers won 22 games last season and advanced to the NCAA tournament, finishing up its time as a member of the WCHA by capturing the 2013 WCHA Final Five. The Badgers return nine seniors and six juniors, the most upperclassmen on their roster since the 2009-10 squad that reached the 2010 NCAA Championship Game. The Badgers also return 81.3 percent of their goal scoring (91 of 112 goals) and 78.9 percent of their points (239 of 303 points) for the 2013-14 campaign.
Minnesota was voted to finish second this season, with Michigan picked for third, Michigan State and Ohio State projected to tie for fourth and Penn State rounding out the poll.
The Preseason Players to Watch list features 13 student-athletes, including a league-best four Wisconsin skaters. Senior forwards Michael Mersch and Mark Zengerle are joined by junior defenseman Jake McCabe and sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles.
Mersch enters the season as the nation's second-leading returning goal scorer, while Zengerle's 118 career points has him six points from becoming the highest scoring player in the Mike Eaves' coaching era. McCabe was a third-team All-WCHA defenseman a year ago. Finally, Kerdiles ranked second in the nation last season among rookie scorers and capped his season with a 12-game point-scoring streak and the WCHA Final Five MVP award.
Minnesota boasted three selections and Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State each had two players recognized.
Wisconsin opens its season on Friday, Oct. 11, at the Kohl Center against Northern Michigan. Official practice begins Saturday, Oct. 5, with the Red-White Scrimmage at Hobbs Ice Arena in Eau Claire, Wis. Wisconsin opens Big Ten play on Nov. 29 with a series at Minnesota. Each Big Ten team will play a 20-game conference slate.
The preseason poll and Players to Watch list can be found below.
2013-14 BIG TEN PRESEASON POLL 1. Wisconsin 2. Minnesota 3. Michigan T4. Michigan State T4. Ohio State 6. Penn State
2013-14 BIG TEN PRESEASON PLAYERS TO WATCH Mac Bennett, D, Michigan Ryan Dzingel, F, Ohio State Alex Guptill, F, Michigan Max McCormick, F, Ohio State Matt Berry, F, Michigan State Nic Kerdiles, F, Wisconsin Jake Hildebrand, G, Michigan State Jake McCabe, D, Wisconsin Kyle Rau, F, Minnesota* Michael Mersch, F, Wisconsin Mike Reilly, D, Minnesota Mark Zengerle, F, Wisconsin Adam Wilcox, G, Minnesota
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