Monday, October 27, 2014

Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge Doesn't Disappoint Once Again

Storied programs provide perfect early season excitement

By Miles MicQuinn

If you're like me, you salivate at the idea of teams like Boston College and Minnesota going head to head. Two teams who share a total of 10 national championships – five a piece – between them and come reloaded every season. It’s comparable to Alabama and LSU or Ohio State and Michigan on the gridiron in that the match-up can’t be beat.

Fortunately for us, the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge provides fans the opportunity to see these two iconic programs go at each other for the second straight year. After the Golden Gophers beat and tied the Eagles in their series last year at Mariucci Arena, the two almost squared off for the national title in April.

Now I'd watch the national championship even if Alabama-Huntsville and American International were playing in it, but I couldn't help but feel a little shorted not seeing a Boston College/Minnesota final last year –  even if Union deservedly earned their crown.

Nevertheless, despite the fact that it's only one game this year, you can't help but feel emphatic about the two taking each other on once again in late November. Is it as an established rivalry as Minnesota and North Dakota or Boston College and Boston University? No, but we can save that discussion for another time.

The best thing about the Challenge is that upsets are almost guaranteed to happen. We saw it last year, and we saw it with the very first game in which an unranked Ohio State team beat No. 3 Providence in overtime. The Buckeyes then took them to an extra period the next night before the Friars eventually took game two.

At Yost Arena the following weekend, New Hampshire came in to one of college hockey's cathedrals and trounced the No. 15 Wolverines, 5-1. They played them close the following night before falling 2-1.

And now begins the 2014-15 season. Last weekend potential No. 1 overall pick in next year's NHL draft, Jack Eichel and his No. 6 Boston Terriers were tested by both Michigan teams. The Terriers beat Sparty 1-0 Friday, and took down Michigan 3-2 on Saturday.

And if you thought those games were good, the best is yet to come.

Minnesota and Notre Dame are at it for another two game series next weekend. The aforementioned Gophers/Eagles match-up takes place in late November, and the Eagles and Wolverines are set to do battle in December.

But let us not forget about the impact these games have on a national scale.

Take for example, Ohio State, who swept Canisus, Mercyhurst, Niagara, and Robert Morris last season.

If you gave me an option of weekend splits against teams like Boston University and Providence over sweeps against any of the teams mentioned in the prior sentence, I would respond by saying, 'Where do I sign?'

The Big Ten and Hockey East conferences had a combined seven teams in the NCAA Tournament last season, with five of them belonging to Hockey East. It could've potentially been more if Michigan beat Penn State in the conference tournament or if Ohio State would've held on to beat Wisconsin in the championship.

In this year's challenge, six of those teams are involved, Wisconsin being the outlier.

According to the latest poll, seven participating teams are ranked within the top 20, with five belonging to Hockey East.

It might not be your average Beanpot or in-state tournament like the Great Lakes Invitational or North Star College Cup, but it's great hockey and an excellent way to kick start the college hockey season.

The Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge was a brilliant idea, an idea that I hope continues on for many years to come.

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