- Nov 19, 2012
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B1G dreams: Ranking the schools where we'd love to see Big Ten hockeyAlex Hickey
Big Ten hockey is growing into a force in the sport.
This year, Big Ten teams made up half of the 8-team field playing in the regional finals, with Minnesota and Michigan advancing to the Frozen Four. The Gophers came up short in the title game, blowing a 2-0 lead and falling 3-2 to Quinnipiac in overtime.
Though there’s no title to bring home this year, Big Ten teams were knocking at the door at every level of the tournament.
Overall, it’s a sign of progress for a conference that has officially sponsored hockey for only a decade. Big Ten programs had previously been spread around the WCHA and CCHA for decades before the creation of Penn State’s program allowed Big Ten hockey to consolidate in 2013.
There’s just 1 problem with the conference: not enough teams.
Thanks to Notre Dame’s affiliate membership, the Big Ten has 7 hockey programs: Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin and the Irish.
But nobody likes an odd number. Big Ten hockey needs an 8th. Or if enough wealthy alums pop up, 10 sounds pretty good.
As the Nittany Lions showed, it’s possible to start a program from scratch. You just need a really wealthy donor to be convinced of the cause.
Penn State’s program was made possible thanks to a facilities donation underwritten by a billionaire alum — Buffalo Sabres and Bills owner Terry Pegula.
And though there aren’t billionaires growing on trees, plenty of Big Ten schools have alums with far more money than they could possibly know what to do with.
So which Big Ten schools are most ripe for the addition of hockey?
In a world where we are spending other people’s money, this is the order in which we think it could work.
1. RutgersRutgers is never going to be a football power. Perhaps not even a football factor. Not even the headstart of playing in the first college football game has ever helped the Scarlet Knights in that regard.
But Rutgers hockey? That feels like it could build into something if it ever came into being.
There are 29 players from New York and 13 players from New Jersey in the NHL. Throw in the Philadelphia area, and Rutgers could put together a solid program without ever leaving its own footprint.
Jersey Mike’s Arena is 1 of the most raucous atmospheres in the Big Ten. It’s not a stretch to think a Rutgers hockey arena could create a similar feel.
As for where to get the money?
John Mellencamp once ponied up for Indiana’s indoor practice facility. Now it’s time for Jersey’s roots rocker to answer the call: Bruce Springsteen Ice Center. To be nicknamed, of course, The Boss.
2. NebraskaOmaha has a good hockey culture, including a program at Nebraska-Omaha, where current Cornhuskers AD Trev Alberts was formerly the athletic director.
Lincoln is not devoid of a hockey culture, either. The Lincoln Stars have played in the junior USHL since 1996 — which also takes care of the need for an arena.
In theory, at least, the elements are in place that would make Cornhusker hockey a successful venture: an AD who has familiarity with college hockey, and available facilities.
3. NorthwesternChicago has a good enough hockey culture to support both the Blackhawks and the AHL Wolves, so there should be enough appetite for a Division I college program as well. UIC sponsored a program from 1982-96, but the Flames weren’t very good. And UIC doesn’t exactly have the alumni reach (or pockets) of Northwestern.
Being a small, private university with selective enrollment is a challenge in many sports, but hockey is among the exceptions.
Yale won the national title in 2013 — more recently than any Big Ten program. Cornell was ranked No. 1 in the country when the 2020 NCAA Tournament was cancelled.
Northwestern fits the profile of a school that could make hockey work. To get off the ground, hit up alum Stephen Colbert, who once sponsored the U.S. Speedskating team.
4. IowaIowa City — well, neighboring Coralville — already has an ECHL team at Xstream Arena, which also serves as the home for the Hawkeyes volleyball program. Facilities are the biggest piece of the puzzle, and they are already in place.
Minnesota and Wisconsin are Iowa’s chief rivals across all sports, and both are well-established traditional hockey powers. Learning to hate the Gophers and Badgers in a new sport wouldn’t be too tough for Hawkeye fans to get on board with even if they’re somewhat new to hockey.
A potential challenge for Iowa hockey in gaining a foothold? The popularity of Iowa wrestling during the same season.
Hockey would be behind wrestling and both men’s and women’s basketball in the winter pecking order. But Penn State has popular programs in both wrestling and hockey, so such a feat is not impossible. (Although both squeeze out Penn State basketball, so perhaps inevitably a sport must lose here.)
Where hockey wouldn’t work
1. IllinoisYou’d expect Illinois would top the list of schools where hockey would be a runaway success. Champaign is smack dab between 2 traditional NHL markets in Chicago and St. Louis and not far from a strong minor league hockey culture in Peoria.
And the brass at Illinois figured the same thing, conducting a 5-year study into the feasibility of adding hockey.
Alas, as of last May, Illinois AD Josh Whitman pulled the plug on the project, which was deemed too expensive.
2. Indiana and PurdueIn 49 states basketball is just basketball, but this is Indiana.
Which is a problem for hockey.
While it’s unlikely to work in Bloomington or West Lafayette, perhaps hockey would be feasible at Purdue-Fort Wayne. The school formerly known as IPFW wouldn’t be a Big Ten program, but Fort Wayne has supported the minor league Komets in various forms over the past 70 years.
Mastodons hockey could compete with the likes of Western Michigan and Miami (Ohio) in the NCHC, but only if a wealthy enough benefactor made it possible.
3. MarylandIf you handed a Marylander a hockey stick, they’d stare in confusion. How are you supposed to carry a lacrosse ball when there’s no net on the end of the stick?
4. USC and UCLAYou might be thinking “Well, Los Angeles can support 2 NHL teams…”
But if USC and UCLA had the funding to embark on such a project, they wouldn’t need to be running to the Big Ten right now.
The Big Ten is a growing power in college hockey, but only has 7 teams. Here's where we'd love to see the B1G expand, if financially feasible.