ST. PAUL — The Big Ten is ready to take the ice.
The venerable conference built by storied football programs is about to start its first sanctioned hockey season.
"Big Ten anything is a big deal, no matter what sport it is, and it's an honor to be a part of such a prestigious league," said Penn State junior forward Tommy Olczyk.
Coaches and key players from all six teams assembled on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, the site of the inaugural conference tournament from March 20-22. That event will alternate between St. Paul and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in the coming years.
The Big Ten formation shook up the sport at the major college level, resulting in the creation of a second league (National Collegiate Hockey Conference), the dilution of one (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) and the extinction of another (Central Collegiate Hockey Association). But the coaches and players were naturally buzzing with excitement about the new setup, rather than lamenting the loss of some long-running conference rivalries.
"There is a little trepidation with some of the fans at times, but I do believe that they're going to see we're going to have at Minnesota the best of both worlds," Gophers coach Don Lucia said. "We're part of the Big Ten. We'll continue to play our in-state rivals, a lot of our former rivals from the WCHA over time, and I think it's going to be a very successful move for us in our program."
Lucia added: "After a few years, it becomes the new norm. Fans start to see the way the conferences are, and all of a sudden, you don't know any different."
Michigan coach Red Berenson, who played for the Wolverines in the late 1950s when they were in the WCHA with the Gophers, recalled a fierce rivalry with the potential for a modern renewal.