Five of the Big Ten's six teams took the ice under the banner of the new league for the first time last weekend, and overall the results were pretty positive, with the league going on impressive 7-2-0, and Ohio State taking the only two losses at the hands of new national #1 Miami. Penn State opened their beautiful new arena in front of the Big Ten Network's audience. So what did we learn about the Big Ten conference in the first week of play?
1. Where Did Everybody Go?
Much has been made of the Big Ten's impressive investment into televising college hockey games this year, and the excitement of a sold out Pegula Arena on Friday night was exciting to see, but digging deeper, there were some ugly attendance numbers in the Big Ten.
Michigan drew just 5093 for their Thursday night tilt against Boston College. Michigan has reduced the capacity of Yost in recent years to the point that that is less than 1000 people away from a sellout, but that's not a very good number for what should be one of the Big Ten's biggest programs, against what should be one of the biggest non-conference games they play all year. Strangely enough, Michigan's game on Saturday against RIT, played at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York, drew nearly twice as many people with a crowd of 10556. Nobody tell that number to Michigan's athletic director or that may become the Wolverines' new home.`
Wisconsin started their season with home crowds of 8092 and 9516. That's a pretty rough number for a program that had a season average of 13,000+ every year between 05-06 and 10-11. Ohio State started the year with a crowd of 4831 for a game against rival Miami. Minnesota had a few empty seats, but otherwise, doesn't really have much issue as long as the team keeps winning.
2. Michigan Looks to be Back
The Wolverines started the season strong with a pair of victories, including an impressive win over Boston College, that should look great at the end of the year. Saturday's win over RIT showed some of the inconsistency people expected out of Michigan--a 4-goal first period outburst was followed up by allowing four straight goals against--but overall, there's a lot more to be positive about. Sample size is incredibly small, but Michigan is 3-for-7 on the power play this year, and if they can keep that number around 20% consistently all year, they just might be able to compete with Minnesota and Wisconsin for the league title.
3. Minnesota is Pretty Good Too
If there was any reason for concern about Minnesota heading into the season, it was how such a young team would handle the transition to college hockey early in the season. The Gophers showed no signs of youth this weekend, dominating Mercyhurst before pulling out a solid victory against New Hampshire.
While freshman phenom Taylor Cammarata didn't register a point(he only went scoreless two straight games seven times in his 139-game USHL career, and never had a streak of three straight), Gopher freshman Hudson Fasching, Michael Brodzinski, Justin Kloos, and Vinni Lettieri all scored their first goals as Gophers, which bodes well for the team's depth down the road.
4. Wide Gap in the Middle
Just about every poll this week, including ours, has the top three Big Ten teams inside their top five. That's probably not sustainable, but it looks pretty good for the reputation of the league right now.
The bottom half of the league is a little more questionable. Ohio State got rocked by Miami, though at least you could say Miami is the consensus top team in the country right now. Penn State won a game against a pretty soft opponent on an emotional night where they opened their new arena. Michigan State doesn't get underway until next week. As of right now, all three teams are among the bottom two-thirds of the country according to USCHO's poll, which admittedly, doesn't mean a whole lot this early.