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September 19, 2013 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Big Ten Coaches Excited for New Beginning

Wisconsin Tabbed in Coaches Poll

by Nathan Wells/CHN Reporter

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Big Ten, with all of its glitz and glamour as a major collegiate conference, is entering, by the admission of its six coaches, a new era that is full of words like “fresh” and “exciting.”

“It almost seems like in many ways, it’s a new job,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said Thursday at Big Ten media day — the first-ever the conference that begins sponsoring hockey this season.

“It’s so fresh this year with entering a new conference, the Big Ten. Even though we’ve played many of the teams over the years, this is the first time we’ll be playing each of the Big Ten members four times.

“I think it’s going to be an exciting year, not only for us, but certainly our fans.”

Lucia isn’t alone. Michigan coach Red Berenson played for the Wolverines from 1959-1962. He remembers playing Minnesota when the two teams were in the WCHA during that time with an atmosphere that resembled Stanley Cup games.

That’s a feeling he hopes to rekindle with the Big Ten.

“Whenever we played Minnesota, you could just tell from the fans it was like a Stanley Cup game, and I’m hoping that’s what we get back into this conference,” he said. “I think we will. Our students expect it, our fans expect it, and our players will learn to expect it.”

Still, for all the buzzwords, everyone is entering a new era. The Big Ten came together and formed once a sixth member school in Penn State began playing Division 1 hockey.

Minnesota and Wisconsin join the Big Ten from the WCHA while Penn State played as an independent last year in the Nittany Lions' inaugural season.

Nittany Lions coach Guy Gadowsky has a challenge for his program’s sophomore campaign. Penn State has almost the same number of games played (27) as the number of NCAA titles that the other five schools have (23).

However, Penn State was able to play three of the five schools last year in Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Even better, the Nittany Lions defeated two of the three; including shocking the Badgers at home, 3-2, in the team’s final game.

“To have those three experiences, I think, are very valuable,” Gadowsky said. “Obviously, we’d love a lot more, but three are better than zero.”

Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State, meanwhile, come from the now-defunct CCHA. Spartans coach Tom Anastos, who served as the CCHA’s commissioner from 1998-2011 before taking the MSU job, has made peace with the former conference’s demise.

“It’s not bittersweet. I’m over it,” he said.

Instead, Anastos will see how the rest of the old conference teams — and college hockey in general — fare from afar.

“I have no doubt what we see in the Big Ten will work and grow. I’m curious to follow the rest, particularly our western landscape, but the entire landscape, to see how things settle over the next five years, because I think a lot of the change was in reaction to schools like ours and the other Big Ten schools forming Big Ten hockey.

“I’m curious to see over a period of time if things settle if people feel they have the right alignment.”

Other new changes include a new Ohio State head coach in Steve Rohlik, who replaced Mark Osiecki in April, and shootouts to end ties. Although the CCHA used shootouts for years, the WCHA did not. Still, Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves is taking a positive yet cautious approach.

“From the aspect of a fan, I think it’s tremendous,” said Eaves, whose Badgers were picked to be the Big Ten preseason favorites. “I think it really appeals to the public that they’re going to have something like this.

“The purist in me says the concern was always well, it can’t affect the RPIs, we want to make sure it doesn’t do that. So we’ll need to talk to Coach (Red) Berenson, and he shares some of the things that they do. But they’ve rehearsed it. They get on the Zamboni in the middle of the week and they keep track. I think most teams will do that now.”

Most of all, the new conference aims to expand both its presence and college hockey nationally. The Big Ten will air 27 games nationally on BTN. Another seven will be picked up by ESPN on either ESPNU or ESPNEWS.

No one may be better off than Ohio State. The Buckeyes are known nationally for football and basketball, but not as much for hockey. Being broadcast on BTN can help change the perception of OSU hockey.

“I think that we’re going to go out there and continue to spread that message,” Rohlik said about his Buckeyes. “I think that’s what this Big Ten Network is going to do is put on a stage with five other Big Ten universities, and people are going to understand that Ohio State is a tremendous opportunity to grow up and be a student-athlete and play college hockey.

“Hockey and what the Big Ten can mean to hockey in this sport I think is tremendous. It’s a great day for hockey as Bob Johnson would say, you know, from all the kids across states here north of the border.”

Other notes

-The Big Ten unveiled its preseason poll. Wisconsin was first, followed by Minnesota and Michigan. Michigan State and Ohio State tied for fourth while Penn State rounded up the teams at sixth.

-Minnesota junior Kyle Rau was the only unanimous selection in today’s Big Ten Preseason Players to Watch List. Wisconsin had four players on the list while Minnesota had three.

-Both the regular season and postseason trophies were on display.

 

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