Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Guide to Big Ten Hockey

This year is the first year for Big Ten hockey, thanks in a huge part to the addition of the men's division 1 program at Penn State.  The owner of the Buffalo Sabres, and Penn State alums, Terrence Pegula gave 102 million dollars to the school to build a campus arena.  In college hockey, it takes six teams to start a conference, and Penn State was the 6th division 1 program for the Big Ten.  Wisconsin and Minnesota came over from the WCHA.  Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State came over from the former CCHA to join the Big Ten Conference.

I'll be honest when I first started thinking about doing a blog on this subject, I first thought this is really erie like the original 6 teams in the NHL.  On one side of the coin you have your college hockey powers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan; on the other side of the coin you have Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State sort of like the lesser known programs.  In the NHL the power for many years was with Detroit, Montreal, and Toronto; and Chicago, Boston and New York were sometimes referred to as the red-headed step children.

Let's take this team by team and get you more aware of the programs.  Starting off with the current #1 team in the nation, Minnesota.  When you think about American hockey, it has to start with the state of Minnesota.  The Gophers have won 5 national titles with 34 tournament appearances.  This is the program that Herb Brooks coached before he went on to coach team USA to gold in the 1980 Winter Olympics.  Minnesota owns winning records, all time, against every team in the new Big Ten Conference.  They have had many many NHL players and this year added their first player ever from the state of Florida, Gabe Guertler.  The Gophers are coached by Don Lucia, whom is in his 14th year with the program.  There are so many good things you can say about the Gophers program that it would demand a whole blog by itself, they really have an awesome awesome program.

Another one of the powerhouse program, and it pains me to say it, but it is the Michigan Wolverines.  A program that dates back to 1922, before there was an NHL, Michigan has been winning and winning many games.  Michigan has won 9 national titles, the last in 1998, and has 35 tournament appearances.  They play at Yost Ice Arena, which is actually named after the famous Michigan football coach.  They have also played games in the Big House, which has set the Guinness Book Record for the most people to watch a hockey game anywhere.  They are coached by a legend Red Berenson, who is in his 30th year with the school.  He has won nearly 800 games and is responsible for the last two national titles ('96 and '98).  Michigan is currently #14 in the nation, and they are hungry for a title this year after some let-downs in recent Frozen Four tournaments.

The next team I am going to talk about is the #9 team in the nation, and that is the Wisconsin Badgers.  The Badgers are the 3rd in what I am calling the power 3 of the Big Ten Conference.  They own 6 national titles with the last coming in 2006.  They finished as the runner up in 2010, and lost to probably one of the best Boston College teams ever assembled.  They also have appeared in 25 NCAA tournaments.  Due to the high quality hockey they had played in Madison and the fact that they are both former WCHA teams,  Wisconsin and Minnesota have a rather fierce rivalry on the ice.  The Badgers are currently coached by Mike Eaves, whom is in his 11th season win just over 200 wins for Wisconsin.  Wisky plays in the Kohl Center and is one of the best attended campus arenas for Men's and Women's college hockey.  They have a very skilled team this year, and they are going to be a tough out in the Frozen Four tournament.

Like their in-state rivals Michigan, Sparty aka Michigan State's hockey program was founded in 1922.  Michigan State a little closer to the powerhouses then I originally thought, they own 3 national titles, and 27 NCAA tournament appearances.  Michigan State has had alums like Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks, a vital part in bringing 2 Stanley Cups to Chicago.  They boast over 500 players that have some sort of NHL experience.  The Spartans are currently 4th in the Big Ten Conference standings just ahead of the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Sparty is coached by Tom Anastos, and he is in his 3rd year with the school.  He sports an overall record of  33-41-7.  They play at Munn Ice Arena, which was completed in 1974, and also like their rival (Michigan) it was named after a famous football coach.  It is home to the NCAA's longest regular season sellout streak of 323, from 1985 to 2004 there was not an empty seat in the house.  Its been a little bit of struggle since the last title but Sparty will look to players this year to rebound and return to glory.

The 5th team I am going to talk about is fresh off a huge upset win over the weekend in Madison, and that is the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Compared to some of the Big Ten competition, a youthful program that was started in 1963.  Considering Michigan and Minnesota were already winning national titles before Ohio State was a division 1 program.  Ohio State has never won the title, the furthest they have made it is the Frozen Four in 1998.  They lost to Boston College, whom lost to Michigan, whom won the title that year.  The Buckeyes have 6 tournament appearance, the 1998 edition was the first.  They currently hold the 5th spot in the Big Ten Conference.  They are not ranked but they are receiving a small number of votes for the Top 20.  They are coached by Steve Rohlik; he is in his first year with the program.  The Buckeyes play in Value City Arena, it is actually one of the bigger arena in college hockey.  Most teams play in smaller arena that seat around 6,000 people.  The Bucks are best known for NHL alums, R.J. Umberger (Columbus Blue Jackets) and Ryan Kesler (Vancouver Canucks).

The last team and the newest team in the conference is Penn State.  They have greatly benefited from Pegula's donation.  He has claimed that the locker room at Penn State is better than the locker room that the Buffalo Sabres use in their home stadium.  Penn State opened with Army at home and gave the fans a 4-1 victory.  Unfortunately, things have not gone as well since then, the Nittany Lions have had two 6 game losing streaks.  They also are yet to win a game in the conference, they look to change that this weekend as they are in Columbus.   A sign of there are better things to come in their last game against the heavily favored Boston College Eagles, Penn State played well and lost only 3-2.  Penn State is coached by Guy Gadowsky, whom is clearly in his first year with the program.  The venue is called Pegula Ice Arena, and visiting teams should be aware that Penn State has some of the most passionate fans in the country.  It will be a tough place to play, especially once the team starts winning hockey games.

Now that you have a little favor for the teams here is the current standings:

Michigan State108242217202381235356
Ohio State78251021242212917762
Penn State06060010252041514576

Well its going to be an exciting first season for the Big Ten Hockey Conference.  The Big Ten Network has been showing doubleheaders on Friday Nights in a segment they are calling Frozen Fridays.  It will be interesting to see if Minnesota can hold on to the top spot in the conference.  Can Michigan or Wisconsin catch them?  It will also be interesting to see how Penn State can build off their first year in Division 1 hockey.  I cannot wait to see how it turns out, hope that this blog gives you a little bit of a guide to the Big Ten Conference Hockey.  Have a great night.  

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