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Big Ten Hockey Media Day: News & Notes from Thursday's Event

There was plenty to talk about at the inaugural Big Ten hockey media day.

The Big Ten regular season (left) and tournament (right) hockey trophies
The Big Ten regular season (left) and tournament (right) hockey trophies
Nathan Wells

ST. PAUL, Minn.- I attended Big Ten Media Day Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center along with Bucky's Fifth Quarter mastermind Andy Johnson and dozens of other great journalists. Coaches and players from all six schools were in St. Paul to discuss the new conference, their thoughts on the changes and teams for the upcoming season along with Big Ten officials.

So were the Big Ten regular season and postseason trophies (see above). The pair are much, much bigger in person.

It's strange. The last time I went to the Xcel Energy Center for college hockey, Wisconsin was playing for a different trophy - the Broadmoor Trophy (awarded to the WCHA Tournament winner). At one point 18,000 fans all came together in a giant "Big Ten sucks" chant.

You know how hard it is for Minnesota, North Dakota, Wisconsin and St. Cloud State fans to agree on one thing, let alone actually all engage in a single chant? It takes something major to bring them all together.

But they are now apart. While the Twin Cities has become the western mecca of college hockey - all 3 western hockey conferences (Big Ten, NCHC and WCHA) will have a postseason presence there - the wealth is spread. North Dakota and St. Cloud State are on the other side of the Mississippi River from Minnesota and Wisconsin this afternoon with their own media day for the NCHC.

This is the new reality.

With new surroundings, teams, rivalries, television deals, coaches and storylines, there was plenty to discuss. A few more news pieces are on their own along with a couple features.

The highlights:

-Wisconsin was on top of the Big Ten preseason poll. Minnesota was second, followed by  Michigan. Michigan State and Ohio State tied for fourth while Penn State rounded up the teams at sixth.

It's no surprise that the Badgers lead the preseason pack. (Spoiler: they will lead this one if I have a say). Wisconsin returns its top 5 scorers and both goalies from a team that turned a 1-7-2 record after ten games into an NCAA Tournament berth. At the same time, several other teams had major losses.

Most notable is Minnesota. The Gophers lost five juniors after last season's first round loss to eventual national champions Yale and freshman defenseman Tommy Vannelli left the team on Tuesday. (Another freshman, Gabe Guertler, is currently suspended after being charged with fourth degree DWI).

Badgers head coach Mike Eaves, however, is trying to take the attention in stride.

"It's almost a natural thing to happen because of the fact that we are an upperclassmen team. So no surprises there," Eaves said. "I don't think it changes anything we do in terms of our expectations and the way we want to conduct our business."

-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. Five of the six teams were featured.

The full Watch List:

Mac Bennett, D, Michigan

Ryan Dzingel, F, Ohio State

Alex Guptill, F, Michigan

Max McCormick, F, Ohio State

Matt Berry, F, Michigan State

Nic Kerdiles, F, Wisconsin

Jake Hildebrand, G, Michigan State

Jake McCabe, D, Wisconsin

Kyle Rau, F, Minnesota

Michael Mersch, F, Wisconsin

Mike Reilly, D, Minnesota

Mark Zengerle, F, Wisconsin

Adam Wilcox, G, Minnesota

-As expected, the Big Ten will use shootouts to break conference ties.

This is old news for three of the six schools. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all played in shootouts in the now-defunct CCHA. Minnesota and Wisconsin, meanwhile, did not. Penn State spent last year as an independent so breaking conference ties was the least of the Nittany Lion's worries.

Still,Eaves is taking a positive yet cautious approach.

"From the aspect of a fan, I think it's tremendous," the Badgers head coach said. "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."

-Minnesota head coach Don Lucia is looking to use Rau as a center this season. The Gophers lost its top two centers from last year - Nick Bjugstad and Erik Haula - in the offseason and Rau, who has been the first line left wing for each of his first two seasons in Minneapolis, would stand to get the puck more down the middle.

There's a good chance he'll play center this year. That was always his natural position," Lucia said. "We've put him at back at center down the ice two times for 30 minutes with our guys up until now

Rau may not be the only one to switch from wing to center. Co-captain Nate Condon spent parts of last year at both center and wing and might also see some time there.

Condon, for his part, is okay with being versatile and playing either position.

"This year I don't know where I'm going to play," he said. "I've played left wing, I've played center. I don't think I'm going to play right wing this year because we have a lot of right-handed players over there, but I don't know.

"Wherever they put they me I think I'm pretty comfortable."

-Each of the coaches brought up positives the Big Ten brand has for recruiting and nationwide exposure. Lucia mentioned one impact could be having other programs start .

"At the same time it maybe opens up new avenues if someone is willing to add hockey, hopefully the Big Ten can grow," Lucia said about the new conference Thursday. "If we can get up to eight teams I think it would be great for our conference."

Despite its name, the Big Ten currently has the smallest membership of the six college hockey conferences. It is one reason the conference only plays a 20 game home-and-home league schedule while others play up to 28 games inside their conference.

The next-smallest conference, National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC), has eight teams.

There is no current search for a seventh or eighth Big Ten hockey member. Several Big Ten schools have been rumored at one point or another over the years, but it takes more than rumors to start a Division 1 program. It takes millions of dollars (like the $88 million Terry Pegula donated to Penn State).

Of course other conferences out west now have room too. Prior to Penn State's jump to D1 necessitating the Big Ten, the WCHA and CCHA each had between 10 and 12 teams; as did the three Eastern conferences (Hockey East, ECAC and Atlantic Hockey). Out of the three Western conferences, only the WCHA has double-digits and they have ten. So realignment might not be done.

"But if somebody else wants to add, there is room in the ECAC, and room in the WCHA. So who knows," Lucia said. "Five years from now there could be some difference in alignments in the conference as well.

"I'm not sure everything's settled now. We see it in all sports."

-Although several of the six coaches were enthusiastic about joining the Big Ten, none were more than Ohio State  first-year head coach Steve Rohlik. The St. Paul native takes over for Mark Osiecki, who was fired over a difference of opinion with the OSU administration, (surprisingly Rohlik said he has a ton of support from the administration), and feels the Buckeyes have plenty to gain from the new league.

Ohio State is 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.

-Rohlik's biggest job on the ice is trying to replace graduated senior Brady Hjelle with the battle between Colin Olson and Matt Tomkins.

-Michigan State head 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.

-Michigan head coach Red Berenson is in a unique position. Besides a new conference, the Wolverines missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 23 seasons. Only one player, senior goalie Adam Janecyk, was alive in 1990; the last time Berenson sat home from the NCAA Tournament.

The Wolverines bring back experience this year with 14 upperclassmen. That includes five seniors and is something Michigan looks to rely on to return to the NCAA Tournament.

"If your seniors are the leaders and the dominant players on your team, then you have a chance to have a good season," Berenson said. "That will bring your younger players up a lot quicker and bring them into plays, and it will set the example for them."

-Penn State enters the Big Ten as an unknown and honestly, it's something Guy Gadowsky embraces.

"No idea," he said.  "I mean, we're new. It's a new conference. We're new. We've never been in a conference. So very difficult for me to say this is what you're going to get. We don't know. That is part of the excitement about it."

After talking with Nate Jensen and Tommy Olczyk, they're ready for the journey as well. All three like the challenge of doing something new and selling Penn State hockey (and Pegula Arena) to a solid hockey fanbase.

And that's something we all have.


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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also follow him on Twitter --