Decade In Review: Joining the ranks in 2013-14, Big Ten carving own path with top players, coaches

LOWELL, MA - NOVEMBER 30: Liam Folkes #26 of the Penn State Nittany Lions skates against the Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks during NCAA men's hockey at the Tsongas Center on November 30, 2019 in Lowell, Massachusetts. The River Hawks won 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/USCHO) (Rich Gagnon)
Liam Folkes is a go-to player up front this season for nationally-ranked Penn State (photo: Rich Gagnon).

For a conference that did not exist when the calendar turned to Jan. 1, 2010, the story of college hockey in this decade cannot be written without the Big Ten.

Currently in its seventh season sponsoring Division I hockey, the roots of the Big Ten’s modern iteration were formed Sept. 17, 2010 when Penn State announced the establishment of Division I men’s and women’s hockey teams.

The move gave the conference six teams, putting all under the same roof beginning in 2013-14 and being the first catalyst of western realignment.

Fast forward and the present Big Ten marks an end of an era compared to the conference that began. For one, there are now seven teams instead of six. When the Big Ten began, it was home to legendary coaches such as Red Berenson (Michigan), Don Lucia (Minnesota), and Mike Eaves (Wisconsin). None of those coaches remain.

As the decade comes to an end, the Big Ten continues to take its own path.

Five B1G moments that stand out this decade

1. 2018 Frozen Four

Home to the first Big Ten conference tournament, Xcel Energy Center featured a final weekend with three of the four Frozen Four teams hailing from the Big Ten in Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State. At no other time this decade did one conference accomplish the feat.

2. Minnesota’s early dominance

The early portion of modern Big Ten history can be seen in the Mariucci rafters. Minnesota won each of the first four Big Ten regular-season championships (along with the 2015 conference tournament) for some early bragging rights. Add two previous ones before entering the conference and the Gophers set an NCAA record with six straight regular season championships.

3. The evolution of Penn State

Take in a PSU game and it’s hard to believe the Nittany Lions created a program and culture from scratch. Five seasons into Division I hockey, Penn State won three games in as many days, including a pair of double-overtime victories over Minnesota and Wisconsin, to win the 2017 Big Ten conference tournament in Detroit. Several of those freshmen, including Liam Folkes and Peyton Jones, now lead the Nittany Lions as seniors.

Whether it’s the Roar Zone making a tifo and getting in the heads of opposing goaltenders, or Guy Gadowsky’s team going from teams expecting six points to an offensive juggernaut and Big Ten contender, the difference is the difference between playing at Greenberg Ice Pavilion versus brand spanking new Pegula Ice Arena. A sold-out building in State College continues to write its history, only now with some tradition built by the blue and white team on the ice.

4. Notre Dame joins to make it seven

Almost from the moment the Big Ten conference began, talk turned to who would be the next school(s) to join. That school ended up being Notre Dame, who announced in March 2016 and joined as an affiliate in time for the 2017-18 season. The Fighting Irish entered as a fit both geographically and like-minded and made the most of its new home in a short time.

5. B1G dreams cut back

Besides the obvious – the Big Ten will finish the decade without a national championship despite being home to some of the bluest of college hockey blue bloods – several plans and ambitions failed to come to fruition. Rotating the conference tournament between St. Paul and Detroit gave way to on-campus. An annual Madison Square Garden hoops/hockey doubleheader no longer features hockey. Suggested rules were not taken well by the rest of the sport.

While the Big Ten continues to make some things happen, such as the conference still having the most games on TV, the dreams and advantages of a Power 5 conference changing the sport haven’t exactly happened. It’s safe to say the wheel hasn’t been reinvented as the decade comes to a close.

Co-Teams of the Decade: 2013-14 Minnesota & 2017-18 Notre Dame

Picking one team over the other is difficult given both the Gophers and Fighting Irish share similar stories as the two teams reaching a national championship game. Each was in its first season being a conference member. Each won the Big Ten regular season title and were a top-two overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Both entered the season coming off successful years with question marks due to early departures now making NHL waves. Both quickly solved them.

Most importantly, both of these Minnesota and Notre Dame teams represent the Big Ten’s first decade, looking at the early dominance by Gophers giving way to the Fighting Irish winning three of the four trophies in its two full seasons.

Honorable Mention: 2016-17 Penn State, 2013-14 Wisconsin, 2018-19 Ohio State, 2017-18 Michigan

Player of the Decade: Mason Jobst, Ohio State (2015-19)

Dozens of NHL first-round picks and big names have come and gone through the Big Ten during the 2010s. Dozens more went on to play in the NHL. However, the player of the decade goes to someone who went undrafted from the appropriately named town of Speedway, Ind.

No one scored more points in the Big Ten during the 2010s than Mason Jobst’s 164 (69G-95A). The 5-foot-8, 185-pound forward’s career with the Buckeyes paralleled Ohio State’s rise with Steve Rohlik. OSU and Jobst went from fourth to third to second (with a Frozen Four appearance) to first in the Big Ten as the program won its first regular-season title since 1972. Being a four-year player, a captain and Big Ten Medal of Honor winner who helped turn around a program leaves a lasting legacy even before the points and goals get counted.

Honorable Mention: Kyle Connor (Michigan), Taro Hirose (Michigan State), Justin Kloos (Minnesota), Cale Morris (Notre Dame), Andrew Sturtz (Penn State), Grant Besse (Wisconsin)

The next 10 years

Entering 2020, the Big Ten looks far different than when Minnesota and Wisconsin dropped the puck for the first-ever conference game. The first decade brought new teams, changes in the landscape, contenders and highlights. Kyle Connor’s 35-goal freshman season, Jake Hildebrand nearly willing Michigan State to a regular-season title, the birth of the Penn State program, and even this season with Cole Caufield and Alex Turcotte leading Wisconsin as rookies stand out.

Illinois continues to inch forward towards following Penn State’s lead. There are other Big Ten schools as well, along with new ideas and bragging rights for being the first school to win a national championship as a member of the conference. Plenty of new things can and should happen over the next ten years.

Regardless, for a conference whose entire modern history fits in this decade, enough time has passed to where things have flipped on its head. Entering the final weekend of play before the holiday break, the top three teams in the Big Ten standings (Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State) finished last, fifth and fourth, respectively, in 2013-14.