In case you missed it, here's a quick way to catch up on the Big Ten, with our five biggest off-season stories from the new conference.
1. The Big Ten Hockey Conference Becomes A Real Thing
We've known it has been coming for a couple years now, but this summer the Big Ten Hockey Conference became official, which, love it or hate it, is a pretty big deal for the sport of college hockey. No college hockey conference has ever had the national name recognition that the Big Ten now carries.
Will that name cachet convince other big schools to jump into the world of Division I hockey? It remains to be seen, but there's no doubt that the new league has changed the make-up of the sport forever.
2. Ohio States Drops Osiecki, Then Loses Recruits
Of all the coaching changes this off-season, none was more surprising than Ohio State choosing to fire head coach Mark Osiecki after three pretty decent seasons at Ohio State over what Ohio State's athletic director called "a difference of opinion" on the direction of the program. Making the decision even stranger, the Buckeyes chose to replace Osiecki with his top assistant and good friend Steve Rohlik.
The consequences of the firing were immediate, as the Buckeyes spent the summer bleeding recruits from the impressive stable that Osiecki had helped build up. The Buckeyes lost a number of recruits for this upcoming season, including NHL draft picks Zach Stepan and Cliff Watson, and perhaps more damaging, they lost their top three recruits for the future in Jack Dougherty, Tyler Sheehy, and Nick Magyar, all likely to be selected in next year's NHL Draft.
Rohlik is an impressive recruiter in his own right, and will have time to rebuild his roster, but the Buckeyes have gone from an up-and-coming team with a promising future to looking like one of the favorites to populate the bottom of the Big Ten league standings.
3. Minnesota Loses A Lot, But Reloads
Minnesota only had one senior on their roster last season, but no team was hit harder by underclassmen departures this off-season than Minnesota. The Gophers lost: forwards Erik Haula, Nick Bjugstad, and Zach Budish and defensemen Nate Schmidt and Mark Alt. None of the losses were particularly surprising, save for maybe Alt, but it left the Gophers with some huge holes in their lineup, especially in terms scoring ability.
But the Gophers are bringing in arguably the best recruiting class in the country, which should help keep them among the country's best teams. The class is led by USHL scoring phenom Taylor Cammarata, along with his linemate, who finished second in USHL scoring Justin Kloos. Gabe Guertler and Vinni Lettieri were also impressive USHL players that should add some scoring punch, and they'll replace Schmidt with two excellent offensive defensemen in Tommy Vannelli and Michael Brodzinski.
4. Big (Ten) Day at the NHL Draft
The Big Ten was very well represented at this summer's NHL Draft. Michigan recruit JT Compher became the first Big Ten player to hear his name called at the draft when he was taken 35th overall by the Buffalo Sabres. Compher was the first of five Michigan players to be selected, leading the Big Ten in number of players selected.
Minnesota was just behind the Wolverines with four players selected. Wisconsin had a pair of recruits taken in the draft. Perhaps most significantly, Penn State had a pair of recruits taken in the draft in goalie Eamon McAdam and defenseman Mike Williamson. The Nittany Lions had a pair of players on their roster that had been drafted prior to transferring to Penn State, but this was the first time two players currently committed to the Penn State program were selected in the NHL Draft.
5. Rumors Run Wild
Perhaps it was the uncertainty involved in such a major change, perhaps it was a poor job communicating by the league itself, but the Big Ten conference has seemed to draw more than their fair share of crazy rumors about the league.
Chief among those crazy rumors was one that came from Let's Play Hockey magazine in late April that Big Ten schools that sponsored hockey would be getting an extra $2 million per season from the Big Ten Network. The rumor turned out to be false, but drew a ton of attention in the college hockey world. There were also a lot of rumors about the Big Ten schedule, and that, in order to appease the Big Ten Network and not conflict with basketball, the league would see numerous mid-week games. When the schedule was released in May, it wasn't actually that bad, with each team only playing one or two non-traditional game this year. The use of a shootout to decide ties in league games hasn't been officially confirmed, but with half the league's coaches publicly confirming the league will use the shootout, it appears that one is true.
And as always, there were plenty of expansion rumors. Just about every Big Ten school without a hockey program, from Nebraska to Iowa to Illinois to Northwestern to newcomers Rutgers and Maryland were mentioned as possible expansion candidates, but there was little to no substance in any of those rumors. Unless the first season of Big Ten wildly exceeds expectations, it seems as though the Big Ten will be a six-team league for a while.
Nathan Wells also contributed to this story.