Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why the B1G Bust in 2014-15?

By Jessi Pierce

It's been a rough year two for many Big Ten hockey fans. While Michigan and Penn State and find themselves enjoying the top of conference standings respectively, perennial powerhouses Minnesota and Wisconsin are facing struggles that have shaken their fan bases to the core. Meanwhile Michigan State and Ohio State continue to work for establishment in the middle of the pack.

On a nationwide scale the darkness of the Big Ten is even more noticeable. Take a look at the college polls and you'll be hard pressed to find a Big Ten team in the top 15 -- especially in recent weeks.

Here's a look at the the positioning of Big Ten teams in the standings this season:

Week 1(Preseason): No. 1 Minnesota, No. 7 Michigan, No. 12 Wisconsin
Week 2: No. 1 Minnesota, No. 9 Michigan, No. 12 Wisconsin
Week 3: No. 1 Minnesota, No. 10 Michigan
Week 4: No. 1 Minnesota, No. 14 Michigan
Week 5: No. 1 Minnesota, No. 13 Michigan
Week 6: No. 1 Minnesota
Week 7: No. 1 Minnesota
Week 8: No. 4 Minnesota
Week 9: No. 3 Minnesota
Week 10: No. 3 Minnesota
Week 11: No. 6 Minnesota
Week 12: No. 8 Minnesota
Week 13: No. 9 Minnesota
Week 14: No. 13 Minnesota
Week 15: ------
Week 16: No. 13 Michigan

Don't get me wrong, rankings mean very little and on-ice performance is never dependent on where you fall. But let's examine the teams and conferences in the standings. Take a look at this week's top 5 teams:

No. 1 North Dakota
Conference: National Collegiate Hockey Conference

It's nothing new for the Fighting Sioux North Dakota to be atop the standings -- though they've faced their fair share of woes in recent seasons. What makes North Dakota's top ranking even more impressive is that they are doing it in one of the more challenging conferences. Mixed in with the likes of University of Nebraska - Omaha (No. 5), UMD (No. 7), Miami (No. 8) and Denver (No. 12), NoDak holds its own in a very powerful and exciting conference.

No. 2 Boston University
Conference: Hockey East

The Terriers' success is without a doubt heavily reliant upon superstud Jack Eichel. Eichel, a true freshman, has reignited the proud BU program and Hockey East.

Even more impressive is this conferences dominance, right on par with the NCHC. I've long stated that the battle for the top conference has shifted from Hockey East/WCHA to Hockey East/NCHC. This continues to speak to how dominant this conference is. In the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge my money this season without a doubt is on Hockey East.

No. 3 Minnesota State University - Mankato
Conference: Western Collegiate Hockey Association

The Mavericks have restored pride in Minnesota. They held the No. 1 spot for two consecutive weeks before falling just two spots to No. 3. It can be argued that since the lost of its most prestigious programs (due to the Big Ten addition), the WCHA lacks any true competition. Still the Mavs have managed an impressive 19-5-1 overall record with a 15-2-1 conference record.

No. 4 Harvard
Conference: Eastern College Athletic Conference

Holy Harvard. What a season it's been for the Crimson. The team got off to a fast start and now seem to be wavering ever so slightly. I am especially looking forward to seeing their outcome in the Beanpot Tourney this weekend.

No. 5 University of Nebraska-Omaha
Conference: National Collegiate Hockey Conference

Personally I am excited to see UNO finally make a push for top 5. I've followed this squad for a few years and I have to say, they are the real deal. With Dean Blais at the helm and a leading offensive corps that has the Mavericks ranked No. 1 in the NCHC (just one point ahead of North Dakota), I anticipate having them in this position -- if not higher -- for awhile.

To recap that brings the top 5 to:
1 Hockey East

In the entire top 15 we have:
5 Hockey East
1 Big Ten

So what's happening? And more importantly, how do we fix it?

The lack of true competition -- and fierce upset/disappointment when watching my own favorite Big Ten squad -- has made it hard to watch college hockey this season. If that happens you can imagine ticket sales in our Big Ten arenas are down, too.

As one columnist, David Nelson, for the Minnesota Daily suggests, it could be the lack of competition in the conference itself hindering our squads.

While that may be a short-term solution for Gopher fans, it also still suggests that the Big Ten is not an adequate enough conference to ever be able to compete with the Hockey East, NCHC or even -- as this year has proven -- the WCHA.

That's not true.

I promised this year we wouldn't use the adage excuse of "they are still getting used to the conference and it's travel schedule," and I won't because this conference and these teams don't need excuses. What they need is to figure out a way to win more games. Period.

Once they do that -- as simple as it sounds -- then the Big Ten can regain some of its lost dignity.

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