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.