Quoted in the Lansing State Journal a few weeks ago, Michigan State hockey coach Tom Anastos was enthusiastic about the new Big Ten hockey conference, which begins play next year.
"I think Big Ten hockey will be a real exciting brand of hockey," he said.
Anastos' Spartans are currently battling with Michigan, another Big Ten team, for dead last in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. They have lost three of four games to Ferris State, which definitely isn't very exciting.
The traditional college hockey conferences - CCHA, WCHA, ECAC and Hockey East - contain a mixture of big universities with well-funded athletic programs along with smaller schools for which hockey is the marquee attraction. And Big Ten hockey is becoming a reality largely because the big schools are sick of sharing revenue with the small schools who routinely beat them on the ice.
Of the six schools who will skate in the Big Ten next year - Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State - only Minnesota is ranked in the top 10 by U.S. College Hockey Online. The Gophers are joined there by schools like Quinnipiac, New Hampshire and St. Cloud State, which consistently assemble competitive squads packed with Canadian and even European players. These are guys who might prefer playing at a school where hockey players are the superstar athletes on campus. (Remember when that was the case at Wisconsin?)
It will be fun to see Wisconsin's rivalries with Michigan and Ohio State transfer to the rink next year when the Badgers play four games apiece against the other conference teams. Fans are assured that matchups with old foes from the WCHA will be scheduled as well. But it's hard to argue that the Big Ten will be the most competitive conference in college hockey.