Next Thursday, Oct. 6, the season begins officially for Big Ten hockey when St. Lawrence plays Penn State, but this weekend, five B1G teams are warming up with exhibition play.
Victoria at Wisconsin
This game at the Kohl Center begins at 7:00 p.m. Saturday and gives Wisconsin fans their first chance to see the Badgers under the new coaching staff led by Tony Granato. The University of Victoria Vikings play club hockey in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League (BCIHL) with Harry Schamhart, a retired police officer who has coached the team since its inception in 2005, behind the bench. The Badgers begin NCAA play with a pair of games against Northern Michigan in Green Bay Oct. 7-8.
Queen’s at Penn State
The Queen’s Univeristy Gaels play Robert Morris Oct. 1 before their game against the Nittany Lions at 1:00 p.m. Sunday. The Gaels are members of the Ontario University Athletics conference (OUA) and are coached by Brett Gibson, a former Canadian collegian who is in his 11th year with the Gaels. The Nittany Lions host St. Lawrence (Oct. 6-7) to open their regular season.
Toronto at Michigan State
The University of Toronto Varsity Blues begin their weekend Saturday with a game against Western Michigan before playing the Spartans at 4:00 p.m. Sunday. The Blues are affiliated with the Ontario University Athletics conference (OUA) and are coached by Darren Lowe, an alumni who played a season with the Pittsburgh Penguins (1983-84) and a couple in my adopted hometown of Flint, Mich. when the IHL was still a thing. The Spartans open their NCAA season with a pair of road games against former CCHA rival Lake Superior State Oct. 14-15.
Wilfrid Laurier at Ohio State
Sunday’s 4:00 p.m. game is the 15th meeting between the Golden Hawks and Buckeyes; Ohio State leads the series 11-2-1. Wilfrid Laurier also plays in the OUA and is coached by alumni Greg Puhalski who followed five years playing for the Toledo Storm of the ECHL (1993-98) with an 18-year career coaching minor league hockey in the U.S. Ohio State travels to this year’s Ice Breaker in Denver Oct. 7-8 to begin the regular season.
Windsor at Michigan
The Lancers warm up against Bowling Green Saturday before traveling to Ann Arbor for Sunday’s 3:00 p.m. game. Another OUA team, the University of Windsor has been coached since the 2008-2009 season by Kevin Hamlin, who spent a year (1990-91) as an assistant at Cornell. The Wolverines begin regular-season play Oct. 7-8 with a two-game home series against Union.
The season preview is coming
Exhibition games may be sparsely attended games that more often than not end up with one team posting a score that resembles a low-scoring football game rather than a hockey contest, but … hey, it’s still hockey. It’s a sign that the real thing is right around the corner. If it’s televised or streamed, it’s worth tuning in and at least having it on in the background. I streamed the Minnesota Wild vs. Colorado Avalanche preseason game on Tuesday on my phone. It was the scoreboard camera view with the radio call dubbed in. Roughly 99 percent of my attention span was taken up by FIFA 17 and I missed every goal scored in the hockey game, but it still felt good to watch some puck. The World Cup of Hockey also helped this year, even though the United States laid a massive egg and the team that was the most fun to watch (North America) didn’t advance to the knockout round.
Moral of this long rambling thought is that if you are within a reasonable distance of an arena hosting a game this weekend and get through the turnstiles for a reasonable price, go for it.
Drew and I never pick exhibition games, but I do think it’s interesting to see a little something about the Canadian opponents that B1G teams typically face at the start of a season. There is a long-standing tradition of exhibition play between NCAA teams and their Canadian counterparts.
Drew and I will have the Big Ten season preview next week, so watch for that. All of our regular coverage begins as soon as the season does.
You can follow both of us on Twitter. Drew can be found @drewclaussen. I have two Twitter handles, one that shows up in the feed on the front page of USCHO (@paulacweston) and one (@PaulaBonaFide) that does not.