Thursday, February 16, 2012

Where Will the Big Ten Stack Up in Hockey Conferences?

By Jessi Pierce

So we've looked at the ins and outs and the odds and ends of the Big Ten Conference. Now it's time to see where these teams, and overall this conference, will rate against the more established Hockey East, and equally new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

This conference has pulled in some of the greats who have showed their prowess in the former Western Collegiate Hockey Conference. Team's that have squared off numerous times throughout the year in the past will now have -- as announced last week -- a 24-game league schedule among its eight members, meaning each team will square off four times against five opponents, leaving just twice for the other opponent.

There's no doubt the NCHC has strength on a variety of levels. With 17 NCAA National Championships among them, many of these teams are no stranger to winning seasons and the big dance on ice at the end of the season. In turn, the NCHC boasts some of the top-recruiters in the nation in North Dakota and Denver with Colorado College and University of Minnesota-Duluth nipping at their heels.

As any WCHA loyal knows, it's a conference that has dominated college hockey for decades and with the meat of that conference now in the NCHC, it as well will be a force to be reckoned with starting in 2013-14.

The Hockey East is one of the top conferences not really affected by the "B1G Shakeup", keeping all of their original members and adding another hockey powerhouse in Notre Dame. Like the NCHC/WCHA, Hockey East has shown tremendous winning power with 10 NCAA National Champsionships and likewise, some of the top college hockey programs in Boston University and Boston College.

Always a power-struggle between Hockey East and WCHA, I can only expect the struggle continue with the NCHC when the 2013-14 season rolls around. Adding Notre Dame will only increase its number of dominant teams.

The conference we've all been waiting for -- and the one that started teams scrambling for a new home. The Big Ten Conference has some of the most well-known and dominant teams in hockey college history. Topping both of the aforementioned conferences with 23 NCAA Championship titles between them, in addition to an up and coming Ohio State program and an ACHA dominant Penn State, I am excited to think that this will be one of the top hockey conference beginning in 2013-14.

Ok, I know it sounds a bit biased, and maybe it is, but breaking it down, there is little reason to doubt that assumption. Even financially, these programs are the most stable, drawing a huge fanbase from each respective school which I anticipate will only continue into the new conference.

It can be argued that its schedule -- formatting only six teams compared to the NCHC's eight and Hockey East's 12 -- is weak, but with only 20 league games for each team, it also allows the team's to get creative with their out of league opponents.

Take Minnesota for example. Not only will the Big Ten format allow the Gophers to maintain the rivals created in the WCHA (Lucia has already announced that the Gophers will play eight games against Minnesota teams each year), it leaves room to not only include famed rival North Dakota, but get creative and draw in opponents from Hockey East -- something that in the past has typically only been left for tournament play.

It's hard to not look at this conference and see the powerhouses. Elite status? maybe, time will tell folks. But a conference with plenty of power to establish themselves as a top conference on the college hockey landscape.


  1. PSU is dominant in the ACHA but lets not forget that going from club level to competing with teams like Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin is huge. Minnesota has an average of 17 draft picks on its team every year. PSU just got their first ever commitment that's a draft pick and he's a player that left Minnesota because he didn't get much playing time. It's no doubt that PSU will be a respectable program after 5-10 years but I don't expect them to compete night in and night out with those other teams for quite some time

  2. You're absolutely right Adam, PSU will certainly have a big adjustment entering in to the Big Ten with the already established teams that have dominated college hockey as a whole on the Div. I level for decades and I certainly do not anticipate them making waves from the get-go.

    PSU moving forward though can really only improve. While skeptics follow Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, who have up and down years, PSU is coming in as an underdog from the gates.

    My biased will always of course cheer for the Gophers to win the BIg Ten year-in and year-out but looking at the conference as a whole (and from a non-fan perspective, covering up my maroon and gold) I can only hope PSU, and even Ohio State, will be able to compete night in and night out to not lose fans of the game due to a lack of competition in the conference.

    Thanks for the great feedback (and reminding me to address just that :))

  3. I'm acknowledging my bias up front :)

    I know Penn State will take a beating up front - I mean, Minnesota? Michigan? Wisconsin? You don't just step in and go toe to toe with programs like that. I keep track of the players PSU has coming in, and while there's a lot to like there and I think we'll be a little more competitive than most think at the start, it's going to be a rough go for the most part.

    That said, I have complete faith in the people charged with building the thing. You can start with Guy Gadowsky, who took a Princeton program that had been to one NCAA tournament *ever* (and won a combined eight games in the two years before he showed up) to two more in his seven seasons there. While he's the most important person, it goes a lot deeper than that to just about everyone associated with this thing. They'll get it where it needs to be eventually.

    UNO was the last program to go from zero to a major conference. They made a surprise run to the CCHA final in their third year, had a winning record in their fourth year, made NCAAs in their ninth year, and now in year 15 are considered a pretty solid program. I don't see any reason why PSU couldn't follow a similar, or even slighly better, path.

  4. It's going to be very tough in this league. I don't foresee PSU challenging for the league title for at least five or maybe ten years, but in a sport where Ferris State can be ranked number one and Miami (OH) can build a national contender, I think Penn State is well placed to build a great program, not only because of the coaches and facilities they will have, but because of the support for hockey in Pennsylvania and on campus.

    The Big Ten will be a fun league to follow. I imagine there will be some years where all six teams are good to excellent and I actually like that it's a small league with lots of space for interesting non-conference opponents. This will allow the established teams to play their traditional opponents while letting PSU play more eastern teams. It will also allow PSU to pad it's schedule in the first few years with teams like AIU and Army to make the transition a bit easier.