That is the short-short version. The Third String Goalie website provided a very thorough version of all of this last fall, on the eve of the 2013-14 College Hockey season. I won’t even attempt to add anything to their preseason rundown.
Now that the season is over, I have a few thoughts on the Big Ten Hockey Conference.
First of all, I liked it. It’s as simple as that. Since the time that I started following Gopher Hockey, I have always looked forward to Thanksgiving Weekend. That was the weekend of the annual College Hockey Showcase that pitted the Gophers and Badgers up against the Wolverines and Spartans. I’m not quite sure how Ohio State got left out of the mix, but that is a discussion for another day. You always knew where your team stood after the four “big schools” clashed. By bringing together these four teams, plus adding Ohio State and Penn State to form a whole conference, college hockey fans could look forward to this kind of excitement all season long. The end of the regular season only added to this excitement. Granted, the Gophers won the 1st conference championship and I love that. Beyond that, you had the Gophers heading into Yost and having to either win on Friday or take their chances against Michigan, on the road on Senior Night. It was a great feeling to watch Kyle Rau bury the puck in overtime on Friday to clinch the title. The next night, the Gophers could rest the Big Ten Player of the Year, Adam Wilcox, and let Senior Michael Shibrowski get one more start in before he graduated.
Second, many people have said that this is nothing more than a cash grab by an already wealthy and powerful conference. So what? These six schools, less Penn State who joined in 1994 and Michigan State who joined in 1949, have been playing football and other sports against each other in the same conference for over 100 years. With the sixth team, Penn State, adding a Division 1 hockey team for the 2012-13 season, the Big Ten was able to pull all six of their teams together. Their other option was to let money slip away to the WCHA and CCHA. With the Big Ten Network looking to fill airtime around basketball games, this seems like a perfect fit. I have no official data to back this up, but I can only assume that a Minnesota vs. Wisconsin or Michigan vs. Ohio State hockey game will draw more viewers than Wisconsin vs. Alaska-Anchorage.
Third, I didn’t grow up in Minnesota and after I graduated, I left the Twin Cities. I loved living in Minnesota, but my opinions of Gopher Hockey may be skewed from an outsider’s perspective. My point is this: I loved to watch the Gophers battle the Sioux. I liked the closeness of the rivalry with Minnesota-Duluth. One of the games that I remember the most is the Saturday game at Duluth in February of 2000. My future wife got tickets from a friend and we sat in the first row, on the glass, behind the goalie at the DECC. This was Dave Spehar’s last series in Duluth as a Gopher and the weenies were flying from the upper deck. I even liked the home and home series against St. Cloud State. The problem for me is that this is where the strong rivalries end. I really don’t care about Bemidji State or Minnesota State at Mankato or whether their athletic budgets are boosted by a visit from the Gophers. Aside from my first three years in college, when Coach Lucia was still at Colorado College, I really have never followed the Colorado hockey schools. Alaska-Anchorage, and Michigan Tech were rarely, if ever, televised so it was hard to get too excited for those road weekends. I’m sure that the Alumni and fans of the Michigan schools have similar experiences.
Fourth, Penn State was a pleasant surprise in their second year of existence at the D-I level. I don’t think that anyone expected them to run the table in the conference or to lose all of the games either. Early in the season, they beat a Robert Morris team that made the NCAA Tournament. In conference play, they picked up three big wins against Michigan. From what I could see on TV and the things that I read, the student section at Pegula Ice Arena was into the games and the seats were generally filled. The one hiccup that I can remember was the week before the Minnesota series at Mariucci when someone found PSU selling “Pride on Ice” t-shirts, which seemed to anger the Gopher faithful more than anything else. I think that in the years to come, with East Coast recruiting and more exposure through television they will continue to build their program.
Finally, I know it wasn’t the first outdoor game between Big Ten teams, but I really enjoyed the Hockey City Classic between Minnesota and Ohio State in January at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. I can think of five other times where Big Ten teams went head to head on ice in a football stadium. Wolverines and Spartans in the Cold War (2001), rematch in “The Big Chill” (2010), Badgers and Buckeyes at Lambeau in the “Frozen Tundra Classic” (2006), Buckeyes and Wolverines in the “Frozen Diamond Faceoff” (2012) in Cleveland and Gophers vs. Badgers (2013) in Soldier Field in Chicago. All of these games were hyped as big events that put people in the seats and drew attention to college hockey. While I would have loved to have attended the game, I live about 500 miles from Minneapolis so a mid-January road trip was out of the question. It was fun to watch from home in the warmth of my own living room as the Gophers and Buckeyes battled it out on a balmy seven degree night beneath the lights at “The Bank.” Speaking of this year’s Hockey City Classic...If anyone knows where I can pick up a gamer from either team from this game, please drop me a line. I would love to get one from each school.
Well, that wraps up my opinions on the 1st Big Ten Hockey Conference season. Thank you for taking the time to visit my site. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comments section or shoot me an email through the home page. Please note, my opinions are mine. They don’t represent the University of Minnesota, the Big Ten Conference or anyone else in general. Also remember, you know what they say about opinions...
This week, I have attached a pair of jerseys for you to view. The first is a #24 Nate Jensen jersey from Penn State’s inaugural season. The Nittany Lions played as an independent team for their first D-I season before joining the Big Ten Conference in 2013-14. It is a Nike Swift material and has the alternate captain’s “A” on the chest and no name on the back as the team didn’t add nameplates on their navy jerseys until their 2nd season. The second jersey is an Ohio State #25 that was worn by Justin DaSilva in his Senior campaign. The nameplate was removed by the school before it was sold. It is a Nike Pro-Flo knit with five sewn repairs on the wrists. If you would like a closer view of either of these jerseys or other Big Ten schools in my collection, please visit the Big Ten page.