Face-Off Tackle Empire: The 2014 Big Ten Hockey Tournament Preview featuring a SBN Bloggers Q&A

Jonathan Daniel

With the first ever B1G hockey tournament here (Thursday) I thought I'd round up each teams respective blogger and pick their brains on the season that was and the B1G Hockey tournament.

The inaugural B1G hockey tournament is upon us and I am certainly excited. In its first year of existence the conference has treated us to some fantastic games. To discuss the first year of B1G hockey and to get thoughts on the upcoming tournament I thought I’d reach out to the bloggers that have been covering the teams on their respective blogs. Joining us and answering a few questions are:

Dark516Knight - The Daily Gopher

Andy Johnson - Bucky’s Fifth Quarter

Peter Putzel - Maize n Brew

bscaff - Black Shoe Diaries

Jeremy _Dewar - The Only Colors.

Land-Grant Holy Land didn't seem to have a blogger dedicated to hockey, so I enlisted our friend, avid Buckeye hockey fan and all around good guy, NC_Buckeye to give us the OSU perspective.

Without further ado, take it away bloggers.

I thought the first year of B1G hockey was fantastic, a lot of skill was shown on the ice and the action was really exciting. What did you guys think of the first B1G hockey regular season?

Dark516Knight Overall, I really enjoyed the B1G Ten conference's first season. These schools are major universities, and they should play against each other in the same conference. I also appreciated the level of competition; each weekend felt like a "must-sweep" scenario for Minnesota to either keep pace or maintain their conference lead. While the league is undeniably top-heavy, the bottom three teams still showed that they were capable of stealing wins from time to time, which kept the conference interesting and should lead to a great weekend coming up.

Andy Johnson I feel that the first season has been a big success. The Big Ten is a first-class league, and that has been readily apparent through one season of play so far. The "Frozen Friday’s" on the Big Ten Network have been very well received throughout college hockey. Hopefully the league is able to expand even further upon the current media package.

Peter Putzel I loved it! Even though Minnesota pretty much ran through everyone, it was a very entertaining season--even with Penn State losing every game…well, almost every game--/shakes fist at the universe…it was fun watching everyone. Having games on the ESPN Empire and BTN’s Frozen Friday was fantastic, but it would be great to get even more television coverage on the mainstream providers. Baby steps, though, right?

bscaff When can we ever catch a break? Every week our fledgling squad is skating with hockey royalty, or Ohio State. I think overall this season was pretty successful. The TV package with Frozen Fridays was great since MSU in the CCHA didn't get nearly as many TV games as say a Minnesota. So having that this season was really great and playing Minnesota and Wisconsin is good for bringing in outside fans. With that being said, playing only 5 teams in conference play, while good for fun out of conference schedules, did get a little boring and I thought made the standings watch less exciting.

Jeremy_Dewar I think overall this season was pretty successful. The TV package with Frozen Fridays was great since MSU in the CCHA didn't get nearly as many TV games as say a Minnesota. So having that this season was really great and playing Minnesota and Wisconsin is good for bringing in outside fans. With that being said, playing only 5 teams in conference play, while good for fun out of conference schedules, did get a little boring and I thought made the standings watch less exciting.

NC_Buckeye Well, it pretty much played out like everyone thought it would. Minnesota was the cream of the crop. Ohio State and Michigan State dueled for that 4th place spot. Penn State, being a 2nd year program, was going to have an uphill battle. Probably the only surprise was that despite having problems on the road Wisconsin was able to lock-up the #2 seed. I actually thought Michigan, being the cream of the CCHA crop, would be a shoe-in for that 2nd place spot.

Was also impressed that the Buckeyes were able to take so many B1G teams into OT this season (4 of which were on the road).

Going forward, should the conference expand? If so, how many teams and possibly who? (I’m the brave new world guy that wants to see The University of Toronto added)

Dark516Knight I really wouldn't support the B1G Ten adding teams, and I'm against expansion for expansion's sake. I don't think there are other schools in the conference capable of supporting the sport well enough. Penn State will be fine because of the hockey history in the state, but teams like Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska won't be able to support teams, and I feel like Ohio State barely supports the team it already has. Just about the only school that has a chance of making a hockey program work is Northwestern, because Chicago is a good hockey town since the Blackhawks have once again become relevant.

Adding teams to the conference who won't be competitive will be doubly damaging: reducing quality in the conference and reducing the number of quality out-of-conference teams that can be scheduled. For teams with national aspirations, they need the ability to schedule high-quality non-cons.

Andy Johnson There’s no question the league would like to expand if possible. Obviously there are significant hurdles to clear in terms of starting new programs, so I don’t expect to see the league expand for at least 4-5 years. If they could get to eight teams down the road, I think that would be ideal. A lot of people talk about schools like Nebraska starting a program, but don’t be surprised to see Northwestern make a push.

Peter Putzel Expansion would be okay, but I don't know if I want them to expand outside of the established conference, like they did with Hopkins lacrosse (although I’ve come to embrace that move). I’d much rather see current B1G schools elevate/create teams. I know there are rumblings/rumors about Nebraska due to the new facility being built out there, but it sounds like a hockey program really isn't going to happen. Perhaps teams like Illinois and Northwestern can step up? For the love of god, no Iowa, though. We can all agree on that, right?

bscaff Heck yes we should expand. We should bring in Robert Morris and Sacred Heart so PSU can get some wins during the months of Jan - Mar. (Only expand for BigTen schools).

Jeremy Dewar As you can tell from the end of my first answer I am a big fan of expansion. I feel 8-10 teams would be great. I think Illinois and Nebraska make the most sense for expansion, with Illinois having the best recruiting base/club program and Nebraska building a new arena. After that I think Rutgers could be good with recruiting but I don't know how serious they would take hockey and their athletic department seems in shambles. If the B1G gets to 10 programs in hockey I think it's because of expansion of the conference as a whole from 14 to 16.

NC_Buckeye I do think they should expand to 8 if possible. Aubrey Nelson, the hockey writer at 11W, recently brought up this College Hockey Inc link on State-by-State MVPs. What I found interesting in that graphic wasn't the MVPs but the tiers below where it listed the number of NCAA players by state. We all knew the three "M" states would be the first tier. But look at what B1G state comes out in the second tier -- Pennsylvania. Third tier finally has Wisconsin and... Illinois (a state that currently has no in-state NCAA hockey team). Then the fourth tier has Ohio and... New Jersey?

If you infer that a state that could produce those number of players should also be able to produce similar numbers of fans... then the logical choice for future Big Ten hockey schools should be Illinois and Rutgers. But there's just no interest at either school's administration. Realistically, I think Nebraska will be next because Cornhusker fandom is bold and energetic and would fill the Fireside Bowl for the Big Ten Bowling Championship. After that happens, I think Delany will get fed up with schools dragging their feet with his scheme to make them gobs and gobs of money (think Jerry Maguire yelling into his phone... "Help me, help you!). I could see Delany, being the crafty mastermind that he is, finagling an affiliate hockey-only membership for a Canadian school (probably Toronto).

Do you like the venue for the Tourney, Xcel Energy center, and what venues do you think they should use in the future?

Dark516Knight I've taken in a dozen or so tournaments in St. Paul, and the atmosphere is always fantastic. It's a great venue, the people are real hockey fans, and I've never had a bad time. I'm fine with moving the tournament on a rotating basis to Detroit, but it would be a huge mistake to put it in Chicago, Pittsburg, Philadelphia, Indianapolis or anywhere else. The attendance and atmosphere would suffer terribly at a "neutral" site.

Andy Johnson The Xcel Energy Center is clearly the best venue available for the footprint of the league. Obviously the league has an agreement with Detroit and Joe Louis Arena for next season, so we’ll get a chance to experience that venue as well. I’m fine with the rotation between Detroit and St. Paul, but I’d like to see Chicago explored as a potential destination down the road. The Big Ten’s offices are located in Chicago and it’s a major recruiting market for the league.

Peter Putzel I don’t like any venue that isn’t 10 minutes from my house, like the Kohl Center is, or isn't in Michigan. I’m lazy, so these games need to be closer to where I am or where I vacation. Yep, it’s all about me.

bscaff I'd like to steal from the PAC 12 for the Conf tourney - best squad during the regular season hosts, even if that means we're on the big sheet in Mariucci. Forget central location, etc, like the foosball. Best regular season team has earned home ice.

Jeremy_Dewar I think the XCel is the best pick for the tournament. It is in a market that eats up college hockey and it's a beautiful arena. I think in the future possibly playing the tourney in Chicago, Pittsburgh and the new Detroit arena make sense.

NC_Buckeye For the first 5 or 6 years, we want the tourney arena to be packed. For that reason, Xcel and the Joe should alternate until we're sure the attendance is there.

Who do you like to win the tournament and why?

Dark516Knight I'm going to Homer-Sota this one and say that Minnesota wins. I can't imagine a scenario where one of the four teams playing Thursday night wins three straight this weekend, possibly having to play both Minnesota and Wisconsin. Between the Gophers and the Badgers, considering the game will be played in St. Paul and not at the Kohl Center, I'm taking Minnesota. Homer Prediction Status: achieved.

Andy Johnson Any time you get a bye in the first round, you have a better chance. So, that puts Wisconsin and Minnesota in front of everyone else. I’m not saying it can’t be done, winning three games in three days, obviously, but it’s a tough task. I’ll probably be criticized no matter who I pick. If it’s the Badgers, I’m a homer, if it’s the Gophers, I went chalk. Wisconsin has a six-game winning streak at the Xcel Energy Center, I’ll predict they push that to eight games this weekend.

Peter Putzel This is a "keep it simple, stupid" moment; the answer has to be Minnesota because of Adam Wilcox. He’s so damn good between the pipes that I just don’t see anyone really challenging his supremacy.

bscaff Minnesota has talent out the Wayzeta. Four lines of it. I'll run out of space naming all of the goofers I hate.

Jeremy_Dewar I like Minnesota to win the tournament. I think Wisconsin just struggles too much away from home and Michigan is too inconsistent to win three games in a row.

NC_Buckeye If Minnesota can continue being the juggernaut that they are, they're a no-brainer as a pick. However, there is the Red Berenson factor. Minnesota and Wisconsin fans, I'm giving you fair warning. As sure as your destiny is sealed when you sign a contract to be Spinal Tap's drummer, Berenson will find some way to make the NCAA tournament. FYI the Big Ten tournament winner gets the conference's auto-bid. We OTE-folk like to crack wise about Fitzgerald's wizarding ways but I actually think Berenson has sold his soul.

Do you see any upsets happening and who?

Dark516Knight I don't know if it can be called an upset, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Penn State beat Michigan. They seem to be pretty evenly matched, despite Michigan being the better team on paper. For some reason the Nittany Lions give the Wolverines fits.

Andy Johnson Penn State seems to have the blueprint on how to beat Michigan. They’ve beaten the Wolverines at home and on the road this season. That would certainly qualify as an upset on Thursday, and I think the Nittany Lions have the moxie to pull it off.

Peter Putzel Penn State over Michigan. Oh, wait, you wanted an upset and not a sure thing?

bscaff So how wonderful would the world be if PSU pwns Michigan one more time? And Sparty can beat anyone, so long as they don't have to score more than 2 goals.

Jeremy_Dewar I could see Penn State beating Michigan Thursday. The Nittany Lions gave Michigan fits in 3 of their 4 games this season, winning twice. I could see the Spartans beating Minnesota (if they get past the Buckeyes) for the same reason that PSU could beat Michigan, the Spartans have possibly played Minnesota the toughest of any B1G team.

NC_Buckeye Yes, Michigan winning the tournament. I will drink bleach.

Give me your top 3 projected tournament performers any positions?

Dark516Knight This Tournament is about goaltending. I see the biggest difference-maker of the weekend being Jake Hildebrand form MSU. He's a very good goaltender who doesn't deserve the poor win-loss record he has going. I don't think he can carry the Spartans through three wins this weekend, but I could see them winning their first game and making the second one interesting based on his play. Second, Adam Wilcox for Minnesota. The Gopher defense has been spectacular all year (minus two games), and he's the corner stone of their wall. If Hildebrand is the Patrick Roy of this tournament, then Wilcox is Dominik Hasek. Third- Ryan Dzingel. The guy can score, and he'll do that this weekend. Ohio State needs him to come up big if they have any hope of winning this tournament and keeping their season alive.

Andy Johnson Well, if Wisconsin is going to win the tournament as I project, it has to start with Joel Rumpel between the pipes. Along those same lines I’ll take Nic Kerdiles from the Badgers. He was huge down the stretch for UW last season, and ended up winning the MVP award at the WCHA Final Five. My wildcard this weekend is Hudson Fasching from Minnesota. He’s shown at times he can be a dominant player, and I like his game on the NHL size ice surface.

Peter Putzel Top three performers? Can all three of them be Adam Wilcox? Otherwise I think that we’ll see some good stuff from UW’s Mark Zengerle and maybe Ohio State’s Ryan Dzingel.

bscaff Dzingel would've been first on my list until his back injury vs PSU. Instead, give me Hildebrand, a goofer forward - make it their freshman, Facshing, and might as well throw a Badger in there...Zengerle.

Jeremy_Dewar This is a tough one. I think if Ohio State wins a game or two Ryan Dzingel will be a top performer. I also think Adam Wilcox will play great this weekend. To pick another forward I think Nic Kerdiles from Wisconsin has played great the back half of the season.

NC_Buckeye Adam Wilcox (Minn.) will have a great weekend. (Know I'm not shocking anyone with that.) Luke Moffatt (Mich) will get the Wolverines to Saturday's Championship game. Also think Ryan Dzingel will have a great Thursday but ultimately fall short on Friday. He's not expected back for his senior season.

\Give any additional thought you might have, it can be anything B1G hockey related at all.

Dark516Knight Minnesota and Wisconsin fans no doubt remember the near-mythical status enjoyed by the WCHA Final Five in these parts. I have a feeling that it might be many years before the B1G Ten tournament reaches that level of interest, if it ever does. The reason the WCHA tournament was so well attended was the large number of D-1 teams from Minnesota; travel was easy, and most graduates of those schools end up moving to Minneapolis and St. Paul for work, so they were locals anyway. Since the B1G is so much more geographically diverse, I just don't expect the same type of turnout, no matter where the event is held.

Andy Johnson I’m really looking forward to this weekend. The conference tournaments have always been my favorite weekend of the season to attend as a fan and a media member of college hockey. I’ll be in the press box most of the weekend, and I’m looking forward to another first class event.

Peter Putzel The only thing I’d like to add about the season is from the blog perspective. It has been great seeing all of the other sites cover the league in some fashion. Through Zach’s encouragement, I've rediscovered my love for a game that I grew up with, but paid attention to only on the periphery for a long time. Getting back into it and reading the passion in some of the other pieces out there is great, and I can’t wait until next season. Hopefully there can be even more collaboration in the next season as we become more familiar with each other.

bscaff Sorry about the WCHA rivalries, fellas. It was Delany's idea, not ours. He's hungry for marketable TV rights. But it sure has been awesome playing you on skates this year. And before too long, I hope we'll have give you plenty of legitimate reasons to hate our guts . I already hate yours. Except Michigan - you Wolverines were so kind and accommodating this year. Really made PSU feel at home, even on the road.

Jeremy_Dewar This has been an interesting season in college hockey. The ECAC and Hockey East look like the top conference in the nation. For fans new to hockey they may not recognize schools like Quinnipiac, Union and Ferris State but all three of the teams have been top 10 nearly all season. This year also has felt like a long march to get to the final two clear cut top teams in Minnesota and Boston College. However, with the way college hockey's tournament is conducted with 4 single elimination games, anything can happen. In closing I want to use this time to push my biggest agenda for college hockey, a best of 3 playoff series in the regional stage, similar to college baseball. I would also have campus sites host these games. Before tournament expansion college hockey did this, and I would be willing to sacrifice less regular season games for a more conclusive tournament. Why play the longest regular season in college sports to have one of its shortest post-seasons?

NC_Buckeye I am going to throw a huge party when Berenson retires. Seriously. He's been their coach since 1984. That was my freshman year in Columbus. I've got to go meditate now. (Serenity now. Ohhhhmmmmmm.)

Thanks guys, thanks for taking time out and sharing your thoughts on B1G hockey and the B1G tournament, that was awesome! I have enjoyed reading everyone's work over the season, keep up the great work and let's try to get together more often in the future. Enjoy the tournament.

If you need a break from the hardwood, hit the ice here with us for any of the B1G hockey tournament games, there is going to be some great action!

Schedule:

Thursday March 20, 2:00pm #3 Michigan v #6 Penn State, 7:00pm #4 OSU v #5 MSU

Friday March 21, 2:00pm #2 Wisconsin v winner Michigan/PSU, 7:00pm #1 Minnesota v winner OSU/MSU

Saturday March 22 7:00pm The Championship.

Note All times listed are central time

All games air live on BTN

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