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Commentary: Let’s wait and see what Big Ten holds, but don’t overestimate its teams

The wisdom learned by veteran experience is to wait and see, let things happen and then react. However, some of the propaganda about what the Big Ten Conference will do to save college hockey is starting to get, at the very least, ridiculous.

Take the latest. A story in The State News, the student newspaper at Michigan State, by Jeff Kanan (who happens to do a good job there) typifies what has been printed by respected writers in the past couple of days, and there needs to be at least some balance here. Those would be writers in Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Madison, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Columbus.

A Big Ten Conference for hockey isn’t something I feel strongly about, and it is amazing how many really bright people working in college hockey feel that way but would probably get fired from their jobs for saying it publicly.

Let us recall the Wall Street Journal article from December that basically said the industry revolves around the Big Ten teams in college hockey. It just isn’t true. Good programs, track records of success, but not the hub.

The WCHA put five teams in the NCAA tournament; Wisconsin and Minnesota are not among them. The CCHA put four teams in; only Michigan is in among the hat trick of Ohio State, Michigan State and the Wolverines.

I give Wisconsin a pass — Mike Eaves runs a great program but he plays in a great conference. He was in a unique situation with seven seniors, four underclassmen, two great assistant coaches who left and still kept the program on track. Minnesota has done very little to up the competition ante lately. Not a critique, just a fact based on what that program used to be.

Since Minnesota’s back-to-back national championship run in 2002 and 2003, the only two Big Ten teams to win it all are Wisconsin in 2006 and MSU in 2007. Michigan made a Frozen Four and lost to Notre Dame recently. Wisconsin made it last year and got beaten soundly by Boston College, which is in the midst of a run of two titles in three-year span and three since 2001.

BC and Boston University combined have won as many national titles as all five Big Ten teams since 2001. Remember, Hockey East teams have made a national title game every year since 1999 with the exception of the all-WCHA Frozen Four in Columbus, Ohio, in 2004, which saw Minnesota, Denver, Colorado College, and North Dakota. The Gophers got beat by the Sioux in the semis.

Enough of that. We all agree that the Big Ten programs are good ones. Michigan is a winner. Wisconsin is a winner. Minnesota should rebound soon. OSU is in great hands with Mark Osiecki.

That turns our attention to MSU, and I’ll be brutally honest here. I like Tom Anastos and think he is the in the top three candidates for the smartest guy in college hockey. His hiring at Michigan State is a high-risk, high-reward deal because, as we saw with Barry Melrose coming back into the NHL without any bench experience in over a decade, being out of the trenches for a while isn’t a good thing. The game has changed completely since Anastos last patrolled a bench at the NCAA level.

He could do well here. His strengths are that he is a good hockey guy, well supported by all levels of hockey and is a great seller of his product. This is a wait-and-see situation and, like all new head coaches taking over a program, he is owed time to get started and build. This one probably doesn’t succeed as fast as Dean Blais at Nebraska-Omaha or Jeff Blashill at Western Michigan, but it could work.

That returns us to the labeling of Big Ten teams as powerhouse programs. At best, it’s stretching the truth. It is an opinion, not a fact.

Historically, these were strong and at times dominant programs, but that is not the case as we approach the 2011-12 season.

Boston College is a powerhouse. It has the hardware to prove it, and it just might get a third national title in four years in April.

Here’s the line from the State News column:

The Spartans have matched up with the Badgers and Gophers once a year for nonconference games, but playing a Big Ten schedule of 20 games would allow for four games apiece against the powerhouse programs. Having four multiple national championship winners in the same conference would make for ultra-competitive play and perhaps steal NCAA Tournament bids away from smaller conferences.

There is that powerhouse misnomer again. Four multiple championship winners in one conference is true but, again, not lately. It is like selling Michigan football as “college football’s winningest team,” but the reality is it has been beating Division I-AA teams and Indiana lately.

I’m a big fan of Michigan’s hockey program and how it is run, but the reality is it last won a title in 1998. The Wolverines are a consistent participant in the tourney with 21 straight appearances, so they can be considered an elite program and a constant threat to win the national title. But powerhouse isn’t accurate, and even coach Red Berenson would probably tell you that himself. The Wolverines’ season has ended at the hands of Colorado College, North Dakota, Air Force, Notre Dame and Miami to name a few in the past few years.

The concept of stealing away tourney bids might not work, either. If these teams just beat up on each other, as they probably will, they could actually lessen each other’s chances of an at-large bid. This isn’t college basketball, where every team with a pulse gets in, and college football, where there are more bowl games than good teams.

On that note — and I say this while openly admitting that I do not know the minutia of conference realignment in terms of legality and financial needs — who is to say that this does not lead to the Ivy League breaking off from the ECAC to be its own conference like it does in many other sports? A six-team ECAC, a six-team Ivy? You lose an auto bid.

Who is to say that Atlantic Hockey does not make a decision to condense to two smaller and separate conferences so the Sacred Hearts and Bentleys of the world have a better chance to make the tourney? The more conferences, the less at-large bids.

Now to the other side and Mike Chambers of The Denver Post. He writes:

Right now, I like the look of ours. What I mean my “ours” is a hypothetical, Western-based power league consisting of DU, CC, North Dakota, Miami (Ohio), Notre Dame and Nebraska-Omaha, and maybe the other ‘Sota schools — Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State and Bemidji State. If it’s only a six-team loop — preferrable to guarantee home-and-away series against every league member, a key for building rivalries – I’ll take our six teams over the Big 10 boys.

That is assuming Miami and Notre Dame are lured out of the CCHA, and there are those who think Miami and ND would fit nicely with Hockey East, especially with Notre Dame in the Big East Conference in many sports. Then again, and most importantly, they might not go anywhere and stay in the CCHA.

Whatever happens is fine by me, because I know “our” programs are going to like where they land. If our teams make a plan and stick together, our new league could be more exciting than what we currently have. Certainly, longtime WCHA rivals DU, CC and UND could sell far more tickets in home games against Notre Dame, Miami and Nebraska-Omaha than Michigan Tech, Alaska-Anchorage or Bemidji State. And undoubtedly, if a super conference happens, Minnesota and Wisconsin would benefit by still playing North Dakota and DU a couple times a year.

People underestimate the power of North Dakota (Sioux Nation, the most passionate and loyal hockey following in America), Notre Dame (huge football fan base that will follow anything Irish, great coach, breaking ground on new arena), Miami (great college town, one of America’s top programs in the last five years), Nebraska-Omaha (great hockey city, hall of fame coach), Denver (traditional giant, 10 straight 20-win seasons) and CC (Colorado Springs’ No. 2 program).

For Big Ten fans, this is a great week. You get your teams lumped together and a schedule of familiarity.

For CCHA fans outside the Big Ten bubble, this is a tough week. The CCHA could be in major trouble and that is a shame. The programs left in it will survive but where will they be? Miami and Notre Dame could go together to the WCHA or to Hockey East. Both make sense and you would think they go together, but maybe they split and one goes one way and one the other.

The WCHA has solid/elite programs in Denver, CC and North Dakota. You could make a case the five just mentioned have as good a chance, if not better, to win the national championship in the next two years as any Big Ten team.

Behind closed doors we can all assume that there is a plan in place to deal with this. One coach said to me that they could boycott the Big Ten teams for a couple of seasons to give them a lousy non-conference schedule, but that doesn’t really help anyone. It is an interesting idea but probably not a good one for the big picture.

Let’s all sit tight and see what transpires. Until then, we’ll look toward a Frozen Four that if the No. 1 seeds hold serve (a possibility but always a long shot), will be BC, Yale, North Dakota and Miami.

It seems the future conference of powerhouses isn’t in that group.


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  • Starman stinks

    You really think I’m gonna pay for Starman commentary on anything after that last pile of poo he wrote? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • JJFP

    Awesome analysis.

  • GoWCHA

    pass. sell more ads.

  • JCKC

    Yeah, like we’re gonna pay for an article recapping a bunch of similar statements people have made all week on the forums here on the new “Lil’ 10″ conference.

  • Montreal92002

    If I was from out east I guess I’d be scared too.

  • Jon

    Now that we’re past the initial fear, we’ve moved on to fear and rationalization now? Glad to see the writers are progressing through the steps so quickly.

  • Dittoheadadt

    Who’s the knucklehead who “presumed” the Big Ten teams are the powerhouses of college hockey in the first place? There’s exactly ONE of the six in today’s Top 20 ranking, at #6.

    Hockey East has 5 in the Top 20, including back-to-back-to-back national champions. And just about every other conference can similarly diss the L’il Ten, too.

    • HerbBrooksLegend

      It’s called tradition Dunce Head:

      Minnesota = 5 titles, probably third all time in frozen four appearances, and some of the most memorable teams in the history of college hockey (see Herb Brooks).

      Wisconsin = 6 titles

      Michigan = 9 titles (the most), most frozen four appearances

      Michigan State = 3 titles

      Ohio State = competitive

      Penn State = unknown, but certainly a money making athletic department that can draw a lot of recruits out east.

      I’d say the above will be pretty damn formidable. Moreover, you can count on Minnesota and Wisconsin maintaining annual series against the likes of UMD, UND, CC, Denver, etc. Those games will continue.

      As for the Hockey East, man you are loud fans, always have been. While I get sick of WCHA supremacy, with moderate doses of CCHA & Hockey East here and there, we’re not loud fans and we don’t manipulate the media hype. You better hope New Hampshire delivers tomorrow, or you’ll be out.

      Take a good long look at Frozen Four history Hockey East fans, you’ll never match the WCHA’s reign in the era of Minnesota, Wisconsin in the league, or when Michigan & Michigan State were in the league as well – but you’ve got a better chance once BIG play starts, that is until Penn State becomes good and starts poaching your recruits.

      Some interesting WCHA history for Hockey East fans:

      1957-1966 (10 consecutive NC’s)

      1973-1977 (5 consecutive NC’s)

      1979-1983 (5 consecutive NC’s)

      2000-2006 (5 consecutive NC’s)

      And the most consecutive NC’s for Hockey East, drum roll please: 3x – a streak in serious doubt.

      As for pissed off WCHA fans, again, the games will continue. Stop your whining Sioux fans, you can still have your racist nick name and recruit Minnesota.

  • HockeyRules

    The Big Ten scares nobody that knows anything about college hockey. The WCHA and Hockey East are far and away the best there is to offer. Ohio State, Mich. State and Penn State aren’t a threat to win their own conference let alone a national title. Wisconsin is a class program though.

  • SIOUX

    the big ten will be a joke for the first 5 years. Wisconsin will win their division every year for that and then some teams will start to appear. even then it won’t compete with the wcha or the echa. minnesota just now has a chance to compete again.

    • Jbwaaadeal

      amen……Go Sioux!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501157411 Joey Loeffler Jr

    Was somebody overestimating these teams?

  • FalconFrenzy

    Agreed; why would I pay to read what myself and other fans have observed on Facebook, et al. I believe the Big 10 has screwed themselves. Let’s hope the CCHA/WCHA merge to make THE powerhouse conference in collegiate hockey. Judging by the Big 10′s performance in the conference finals…..oh, that’s right, there were NO Big 10 teams in WCHA & CCHA conference finals this year. And only one Big 10 entry in the NCAA tournament despite being spanked by Western Michigan in the CCHA tournament. Congrats “Big 10,” you’re the new CHA!

  • bluetell

    the Big Ten will be good but probably not great. Lest everyone forget, Wisconsin won a national title in ’06 and Minnesota won titles in ’02 and ’03. Everyone is so quick to prop up the WCHA and how they will still be awesome without Wisconsin and Minnesota but who in that conference is a threat to win the national title aside from Denver and North Dakota? The last WCHA team to win outside of that group of 4 was Michigan Tech in 1975, and you’re losing 2 of them. Wanna know who else has won a national title since 1975? Harvard, Lake State, Northern Michigan, and Rensselaer. So you wanna look at elite teams in the new conferences:
    CCHA – Miami, ND
    Big Ten – Michigan
    WCHA – Denver, NoDak
    Flooding the tournament with teams doesn’t do much good if you can only expect 2 of them to actually win the thing.
    Seriously, no one thinks the BTHC is going to dominate, but they’ll be fine and the top teams will all be at similar levels across the WCHA, CCHA, and BTHC. If you wanna brag about numbers of teams who can flood the first round with, then fine. But I think you’ll see a lot of parity between the conferences pretty quick

    • jbwaaadeal

      Colorado College has won two national titles and they are in the WCHA. Outside of Boston College and Boston University the east has nothing on the WCHA….NOTHING! Look it up. Who has the most national titles overall? Michigan and North Dakota.

      • bluetell

        I know CC does. But not in the last 50 years

  • TheDude

    N. Dakota has field hockey?

  • Butchew

    I am a traditionalist and don’t want to see the WCHA broken up. For those of you that are against the Big Ten and afraid the WCHA would lose luster without WI and MN. Bemidji has the program moving in the right direction. St. Cloud had a poor year but has been solid for a number of years. CC has been in the mix and a very competitive team for years. DU and the Sioux have been elite teams for years. I am glad to see the success of Anchorage too, they aren’t a push over and considering all the intangibles as a college program logistically, hats off to them. Now what about UNO. When I heard Dean Blais was at UNO, I knew it wouldn’t be long for them to be competitive and congrats to them for a great year. UMD has had success the last few years as well and glad to see them in the final 4. My point is that the WCHA without MN and WI would still have plenty of good teams and competitive programs.
    CC has 2 championships, DU 7 and Sioux 7. DU is the only program to repeat 3 times I believe. MI has done it twice I think and the only one to 3 peat way back when. Michigan Tech has 2 or 3 as well but it’s been a while.
    I would rather MN and WI stay in the WCHA however. OSU has had a few decent teams 0 champs, WI 6 championships, MI 9 championships ( as much as it pains me….most of any program), MN has 5, MI St has 3 and of course Penn State zero. Being the new kid on the block, I’d assume they will be bullied on the pond for a few years. I would hate to lose those rivalries with CC, DU and mostly the Sioux. MI, MN and WI would most likely be the class of the big ten with MI state always respectable and cabability of being dominant.
    I am happy to see college hockey expanding but would prefer to see teams added to the WCHA and CCHA as is rather than breakup both of them and create the Big Ten hockey…..where are the other 4 or 5 teams to make up “the 10 er 11″. Northwestern, Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois? I don’t know how Illinois’ club team has fared but they were pretty good back in the 80′s and 90′s and fun place to play with the fans literally on top of you; however, Iowa State has had a very strong club team forever.

    If Alabama and Nebraska can support a D-1 team, why not the other traditional big ten teams?

    For all its worth, I am a WI fan and the series I look forward to the most are the Sioux and then the Gophers.

  • Mbenz420

    The bthc will dominate within 3 to 5 years of it’s conception. The schools, programs, facilities, and traditions are too good not to rise to the top. With the network as the exposure catalyst, and the extra money pumped into these programs, they will be elite. Heck, psu will even be quite good in 5 years.

    • Dave

      You can have a billion dollar facility, the best trainers, coaches, and staff but it all comes down to the players and making plays. That said the Big Ten will not dominate as you ignorantly stated. The best players are going to be drawn to the teams they believe can compete and WIN!

  • Butchew

    well put herb brooks …all except the racist nick name comment. dittoheadadt…..you are an idiot. BC has 4….BU a few as well…check the stats putz. drives me nuts when I hear the loud mouth east coasters blah blah blah….Notre Dame or UNH, Duluth, DU or Sioux, and MI. Hmmmm take a look at that!! Big bad east coast dommination huh? Out of 6 teams you have ONE headed to the final 4! CC took out your east coast darlings in BC! What a great day that was. I wanted CC over MI but oh well.

    I am a WI fan and appreciate the sioux rivalry. I am not of sioux descent but creek indian among other nationalities. i would be proud if a hockey team were “the creek”. I don’t agree with the way any indians were treated, manipulated and uprooted from their homes and territory. how is it racist? it should be an honor for their heritage and spirit to be on a jersey. I would be if i were sioux. they are a proud people and should be. teams don’t select mascots or “nicknames” because they are a joke or suggest weakness do they? think about that. they aren’t called the cream puffs or lolly gagers or the wimps, slackers, jackasses…..with a name like the sioux and their history….to me it suggests perseverance, strength, honor, warrior, pride etc… I was dissapointed when Marquette changed from the warriors to the eagles. don’t touch the redskins either! Go WCHA!!!!!! Go Sioux! or bulldogs or pioneers, and lastly irish or wolverines…..anything but the east!!!!!

    • HerbBrooksLegend

      Dude, I’m laying it on Sioux fans, it’s part of the Minnesota – UND rivalry, which I will absolutely, perhaps painfully miss when BIG hockey starts. Thus, I have to get my pokes in. One of our great alumni brought nothing but fame to UND: Dean Blais ,and I’ve genuinely embraced UND’s success over the years, even if at the expense of my alma mater.

      As for the “racist nickname”, I don’t like it, don’t like “Redskins” or the Cleveland “Indians” either, the latter due to the ridiculous logo. Simply put, I don’t like the “Fighting Irish”, but an overwhelming number of Irish-Americans approve, same can’t be said about the Sioux, hence the ongoing controversy. It’s not up to private enterprise or state funded schools to determine the legacy of an ethnic group. The “Fighting Sioux” brings negative connotations. The legacy of Native Americans has not been held and honored in a positive light for the most part. “Sioux” is an Anglocized term, thus not determined by the Great Sioux Nations, where “Fighting” was inserted remains suspect as well. I don’t believe in honoring the original Americans through sports nicknames, ultimately because our government systematically destroyed most of these people – plain and simple. There are better ways to remember such legacies. Florida State did it “somewhat” right by getting permission from the Seminole nation, but they are the rare exception. I don’t think an Ojibwe design of a Sioux logo does it either, that’s a reach.

      In reality, they’re just aren’t many non-Native American nicknames that carry negative connotations. Conversely, there are no No Chicago Brownskins, no Toldedo Whites with a degrading, cartoonish logo, no Oakland Flying Kamikazees or El Paso Burritos – it’s just not happening with the other racial-ethnic groups. I remember the outcry when Minnesota told its high schools to drop Native American nicknames – such outcry has come to pass rather swiftly and without much resistance. The spilled milk and tears, in hindsight, look absurd now.

      Go WCHA.

      • HerbBrooksLegend

        Butchew,

        I do appreciate your opinions and insight, thanks for sharing. We’ll agree to disagree.

  • Speransky

    Dave, didn’t you write a similar polemic about Big Ten hockey at the time of the Big Chill? Is the Hockey East ego really so fragile that a student (!) writer at Michigan State can put you on the defensive with yet another poorly written, contradictory article? (I especially like your proviso “A Big Ten Conference for hockey isn’t something I feel strongly about.” Uh, what am I missing? Did your editor replace “postively” with “strongly”? Clearly, your column is proof that you do feel strongly about Big Ten hockey. Strongly negative.)

    The formation of Big Ten hockey has nothing to do with “power,” how ever that’s defined, and everything to do with money, institutional size, and publicity. Insofar as anyone has a right to be aggrieved, it’s not Hockey East fans (at least one of whom, apparently, begrudges the publicity the Big Ten receives), but the jilted members of the CCHA and WCHA. No one in the Big Ten questions the ability of Colorado College or Western Michigan to play great hockey. But surely officials in those athletic departments are now wondering about their financial futures in the absence of their erstwhile rivals.

  • East Coast Bias

    The BIG 10 is not the worst 6-team league that could arise for the WCHA:

    A 6 team Ivy League would be arguably worse.

    A hypothetical (some realistic, most not):

    2013:
    Noticing the success and ease with which the Big 10 forms its own 6 team league from a rump of members, and recognizing that hockey is the only sport in which the Ivies participate in a league comprising schools beyond the ancient 8, the 6 hockey-playing Ivy league schools withdraw from the ECAC to play as a conference. The residual 6 teams (Colgate, Union, RPI, St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Quinnipiac) maintain the original ECAC banner. This comprises a logical conference of NY state teams plus Q-pac.

    For ease of scheduling, and to honor the historic legacy and link of the conferences, they maintain the same travel partner relationship for half the regular season, playing each member of the other conference once, then playing 2 game series within league for the last 5 weeks of the regular season. This results in 15 game league schedules in both conferences, with 6 non-conference games with legacy conference members (total 21, versus 22 ECAC league games at present).

    The schedule works as a seamless transition from the old ECAC schedule, and goes off without a hitch. 2 leagues, 2 league tourneys, 2 auto bids. The ECAC championship returns to Albany, where bragging rights to New York produces huge crowds. Going one better, the Ivy league Championship sells out Madison Square Garden (heck, if BU-Cornell can sell out, why not Harvard-Yale-Princeton-Cornell in a winner take all weekend with a NCAA berth at stake??).

    2014: A perfect storm.
    Yale once again is near the top of the PWR, as is Union. Despite a first round loss to Harvard, Dartmouth has pieced together a strong enough year to lock in at #13 in the PWR. Colgate makes another run in the ECAC, this time claiming the championship despite entering the tourney in last place, and Cornell takes the Ivy league championship in a shocker. 5 members of the old ECAC qualify for the NCAA Tourney. Half of Grand Forks presents to the ER with chest pain. Others take notice.

    Then things get crazy….

    2016: Frustrated by years of bottom dwelling performances, the periphery of Hockey East (Maine, Vermont, UMass Amherst, Providence) Plus Connecticut and Holy Cross form the New England Hockey Conference. In year one, Maine finally returns to the NCAA Tourney. Hockey East remains a powerful, 6 team Boston-centric conference (BU, BC, UNH, UM-Lowell, Merrimack, Northeastern)….

    2017: Exodus. RIT and Niagara join St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Plattsburg (moving up from D3) and Colgate to form the Southern Tier conference. RPI, Union and Quinnipiac join the three military academies (Navy adds hockey), now misnamed the ECAC. Atlantic hockey survives with 6 lousy teams, now buoyed by the widespread flexibility of scheduling on the east coast with all the small conferences (much easier to schedule out of conference with the rump conference schedules). They still get an auto bid, as do all of the 9 conferences that now comprise the NCAA (up from 5 just 4 years prior).

    2018: North Dakota loses in the WCHA quarters in a stunning upset. Despite a PWR of 9 (and a ranking of #4 in the coaches poll, and #1 among internet blog postings), the Sioux fail to get an NCAA bid. The senior senator from North Dakota holds a senate hearing…

  • hockeyeast1

    are you really that dumb? hockey east didnt start play until 1986 so i would hope you’re precious wcha has more nc’s

  • Gooch

    Funny how things changed over the weekend – Frozen is all WCHA and CCHA. So much for the power schools in the East.

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