Wednesday, February 22, 2012

B1G Tournament Talk

By Jessi Pierce

Another college hockey season is closing in upon us with the ‘real’ March Madness on ice beginning in just a few short weeks. As attention shifts to conference tournament play we of course have to bring the latest in discussion of a Big Ten hockey tournament.

Previously announced as a tournament involving all six teams to be played at the arena of the conference champion, Scott Chipman, the Big Ten assistant commissioner for communications, told the Star Tribune’s Roman Augustovitz earlier this month that those plans had been “scrapped” in favor of a neutral site.

The clear favorite to host the first conference tournament is the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul and sources have told media outlets that the Big Ten is hoping to finalize a deal with the arena by the end of the month. With nothing confirmed as of yet, odds still remain in favor of the Minnesota Wild’s home rink but offers up discussion for other potential sites. So let’s do what we do best and break it down:

Xcel Energy Center
St. Paul, Minn.
Capacity: 18, 064

Opening in 2000 after the return of professional hockey to Minnesota, the X has been host to a slew of notable hockey events. Each March, the coveted Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament resides there just one week prior to the Red Baron WCHA Final Five, both which tend to be host to at least one near (if not an actual) sell-out contest each year. The X also displayed two NCAA Frozen Fours in 2002 and 2011 and boasts the largest crowd to watch an indoor college hockey game with 19,463 witnessing Blake Wheeler’s reach-out goal in overtime to push the Gophers past North Dakota for the 2007 WCHA Championship. There’s no doubt that it’s an arena perfect for a conference tourney.

But according to Augustovitz, the “Big Ten Conference is just one of three conferences looking at the Xcel as a possible site for its postseason tournament.” As just mentioned, the WCHA is still looking to host its conference tournament there, with Commissioner Bruce McLeod telling Augustovitz, “It is still in play for what will be a newly configured WCHA in 2013-14. But we have a plan A and B. There are still some things going on that will effect everybody.”

With Minnesota’s own University of Minnesota-Duluth and St. Cloud State University along with former WCHA member’s Denver, Colorado College and North Dakota used to playing postseason action at the Xcel, the NCHC is the third team eyeing it for its tournament, too.

Despite the options for the rink in the State of Hockey, the Big Ten is first in line for the spot, with McLeod stating, "The way things are lining up, we [the WCHA] are not the first in line," McLeod said, referring to holding a postseason tournament at the X. "Once the Big Ten decides what they would like to do, it will have a domino effect. They might decide to rotate their tournament and not have it exclusively at the Xcel."
Joe Louis Arena 
Capacity: 20,066

Another great option with both Michigan and Michigan State in its vicinity, the Joe, like the X, has seen its fair share of on-ice action over the years. Home to some of hockey’s elite players with the likes of Gordie Howe and the Detroit Red Wings, it also plays host to the annual Great Lakes Invitational and CCHA tournament.

A bit older than the X, but also providing a wealth of rich hockey tradition I could see the Joe hosting the Big Ten conference tournament after the X if it is decided that a rotating location will work best. An edge that the Joe holds over the X is location, seeing as more of a mid-way point for most teams as opposed to the haul to Minnesota — the furthest west in the conference.

Consol Energy Center
Capacity: 18,387

With newly incumbent Penn State, a location out east is definitely an option to take in to consideration. The newest of the three locations mentioned — with just one full season under its belt — and the latest home to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Consol Energy Center is no stranger to large fan bases, named the best NHL arena for 2010-11.

The Consol Energy Center was also selected to host the 2013 NCAA Frozen Four which will be a great grade for the allure it can bring to a Big Ten tournament down the road.

Other potential options: Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, The United Center in Chicago and Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

While each venue brings its own character and reasons for hosting, in my opinion, it would be in the best interest of the Big Ten to do a rotating tournament. Why not use the allure of postseason games to draw more fans out in places outside of Minnesota and Michigan. It’s been typical for arenas to maintain location for conference tournaments (WCHA and the X, CCHA and the Joe etc.) but that’s not always best. For example, the hiccup that the Xcel Energy Center poses in being a permanent location is that Minnesota is the westernmost Big Ten team, making travel difficult for plenty of Penn State and even Ohio State fans.

“Do you believe in Miracles? YES!”

It still gives me chills. Even born seven years later, YouTube, remakes and overall obsession (only intensified interning at USA Hockey) have allowed me to relive that 1980 moment over and over again. A moment that has been named the greatest in sports history and the top of the 20th century — and rightfully so — it reminds us, like Al Michaels and the 1980 U.S. Olympic team did, to believe in miracles.

32 years ago to date, a 4-3 score on a sheet of ice in Lake Placid, N.Y., changed, if even just for a little bit, the game of hockey, bringing together avid fans and those who knew nothing of the game all at once. And, it changed the idea that amateur and collegiate players could not defeat the best hockey team in the world in the Soviets.

The 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team rostered nine University of Minnesota players (Mike Ramsey, Rob McClanahan, Steve Janaszak, Steve Cristoff, Bill Baker, Neal Broten, Buzz Schnieder, Eric Strobel and Phil Verchota) and two University of Wisconsin players (Bob Suter and Mark Johnson) and included Golden Gopher Coach Herb Brooks as its leader.

So in honor of that amazing moment, enjoy this clip. America!