ST. PAUL, Minn. — When Mel Pearson walked off the platform following his postgame press conference Thursday, he said, “Go Blue!” When talking to reporters in the hallway outside of the interview area, he said, “Go Big Ten.”
It’s a sentiment that many people who follow Big Ten teams echo.
Since its inception in 2013-14, Big Ten hockey hasn’t exactly made a name for itself in the NCAA tournament. Before Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State advanced to this year’s Frozen Four, Minnesota was the only B1G team to play for a national championship as a Big Ten team, when the Golden Gophers lost the 2014 title game to Union, 7-4.
The last time a current Big Ten team won a national championship was in 2007, when Michigan State beat Boston College 3-1, but those Spartans played for the now-defunct CCHA.
“The Big Ten’s here to stay,” said Pearson. “Great coaches. Great players. It’s going to be a tough league year after year. We could have had five teams in the tournament this year. We got four.”
Throughout the 2017-18 season, Big Ten hockey looked promising in nonleague play, with a record of 53-21-5 against teams from other conferences for the best win percentage (.703) among all leagues in inter-conference play.
Given the league’s previous underperformance, there was some question about whether that record was evidence of an improved conference that could compete on a national stage. Then four Big Ten teams — Penn State in addition to the three in the Frozen Four — made the NCAA tournament with Minnesota narrowly missing a chance to participate.
“One thing the Big Ten has done that I found in my first year is it prepares you for anything, for any opponent you’re going to see,” said Pearson. “You’re not going to see many opponents better than we had in the Big Ten this year, the depth we had. I think this is what everybody expected when the Big Ten was formed and it’s only going to get better.”