By Jessi Pierce
For three years I've seen it time and time again. I'd venture to say 90 percent of tweets or posts sent out in regards to the realignment and Big Ten hockey are met with negativity far and wide. People are still angry and still long for the days of college hockey past. It's affected nearly every Big Ten team's fan base, but the biggest resentment seems to be reserved for Minnesota fans.
Trust me, I get it. A State of Hockey native, I'll be the first to admit that my heart is with the Gopher Hockey team each and every season. It has been since I can remember. It's the team that I grew up following, every successful and unsuccessful tournament run.
I loved loathing North Dakota, squaring off with in-state and conference rivals, and making the March pilgrimage to the X for the WCHA Final Five. As Gopher fans we were always guaranteed quality on-ice action and we were passionate. College hockey fans in general were passionate.
But lately it seems that passion is gone. While some of the blame falls on the on-ice product this season, for many fans wearing the maroon and gold, the blame remains predominately the Big Ten.
Do I miss what the Gopher program used to be a part of like the rest of the team's loyal fans? Of course. But that doesn't mean I am resentful toward the Big Ten.
Instead of looking at all the downsides -- which we as long-time fans tend to do -- we have to embrace all the good it does.
- More exposure to college hockey
- Room for growth and additions of more teams and more competition
- Growth in turn leads to more acknowledgement of how great this sport is in the media
- Growth of players wanting to play hockey
- A conference name recognized outside of the midwest
Those are just to name a few of the very basics.
The college hockey landscape will never be the same. The WCHA brought out some of the best rivalries -- and plenty of them for our Gophers -- but who's to say that same thing can't happen in the Big Ten. Minnesota and Michigan harbored a rivalry before conferences divided them -- bring it back.
Minnesota prides itself on being the top hockey program in the nation. Growth in hockey isn't going to change that. As long as we have frozen ponds nine months out of the year, the title of State of Hockey will never go away. Our history supports that theory and supports the Gophers. But now is the time to create a new page in the Big Ten history books.
The reality is, we don't have a choice. The former conferences aren't coming back. Unless Doc shows up in a Delorian and we decided to gun it back to 2012, it is what it is. The Big Ten is here and it's not going away.
Live in the present. Programs will grow, rebuild and become competitors. Keep cheering and jeering and in time we'll see that the Big Ten isn't the end of college hockey as we know it, it's just the end of what once was.