Along with the start of the NHL season being right around the corner, so is that of the college hockey season. The Minnesota Golden Gophers open the 2014-2015 season with an exhibition game on Saturday against Northern Alberta Institute of Technology at Mariucci Arena.
This season marks the second season of the Big Ten Hockey Conference. I will be honest with you, I am NOT a fan of the Big Ten Hockey Conference at all. (I am also not a fan of the hockey game broadcasts on the Big Ten Network—that could be a whole other blog post in itself, actually).
For those who are wondering, could Minnesota (and Wisconsin) have stayed in the WCHA conference if they wanted to? The answer is no. The Big Ten Conference has in their charter that if any six member schools have a team in a particular sport, those member schools would have to join the Big Ten conference in that sport. (Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State had to leave the CCHA to join). I knew it was inevitable when Penn State announced that they were moving their men’s hockey program from ACHA to NCAA Division 1 status.
As an alum of the University of Minnesota (class of 2002), I was used to attending WCHA conference games at Mariucci Arena (along with some trips to St. Cloud, Duluth, and Grand Forks) while I was in college—along with the big rivalries with St. Cloud State, UMD, North Dakota. (The rivalry with Minnesota State-Mankato became another big one in recent years). The WCHA (as I knew it) was one of the most storied conferences in collegiate Hockey history with Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin winning NCAA championships and Bemidji State, St. Cloud State, and UMD have all made appearances in the NCAA tournament.
When it was announced that the Big Ten Hockey conference was starting in 2013, I was disappointed. The reason why is that Minnesota and Wisconsin would have to leave the WCHA, the status of the big rivalries between North Dakota and the in-state schools were put into limbo—were those going to be allowed to continue in some form? (There are no worries about the border battle because that would still continue). There isn’t really a rivalry with Michigan State and Ohio State in men’s hockey, even though there is somewhat of a rivalry with Michigan.
In looking at the schedule for this season, Minnesota will play UMD on October 10, but that game will be in South Bend, IN. Minnesota will also play Bemidji State at Mariucci on October 24-25, then have a home-and-home series with St. Cloud State the weekend of Halloween. The Gophers will have another home-and-home with Minnesota-Duluth on November 14 and 15. The second annual North Star Cup will consist of Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota St.-Mankato and Bemidji State this season. Minnesota and North Dakota will not be playing against each other this year again in regular season action (Minnesota and North Dakota did face off against each other in the Frozen Four—remember the goal scored with .6 of a second left on the clock??) (Schedule information courtesy of gophersports.com). Minnesota and North Dakota won’t face each other again in the regular season until the 2016-17 season at Mariucci. (Minnesota and North Dakota will also face off in the 2017-18 season at Grand Forks).
In looking at the upcoming season, Minnesota will face its Big Ten conference foes twice. The usual Border Battle Rivalry with Wisconsin is still intact. The series that are going to be hard for me to be excited about are the series between Penn State and Ohio State. Penn State needs to establish its men’s hockey program and I think it will be a few years before that series becomes any sort of a rivalry. I really don’t see much of a rivalry with Ohio State because Minnesota has beaten Ohio State in the series between the two teams and really didn’t meet a whole lot in the regular season before the start of Big Ten play.
Minnesota did come away with the first Big Ten regular season title (even though they lost in the first game of the Big Ten Conference tournament) and Minnesota is also the pre-season favorite to win the conference title again this season.
The Big Ten Hockey Conference tournament will be held this season in Detroit, which is something else I don’t understand. Other than it being hosted at Joe Louis Arena, I don’t get why it’s in Detroit this year. When Minnesota and Wisconsin were in the WCHA, the WCHA tournament has been hosted in St. Paul every year since the Xcel Energy Center opened and those tournament games sold out every year (that’s part of the reason why Minnesota calls itself the “State of Hockey”).
Time will tell if my attitude towards the Big Ten Hockey conference will change. Right now, I’m not a big fan of the Big Ten Hockey conference.