When the Big Ten hockey conference became an idea, no one expected it to be as competitive and skilled as it is now. In the last two years, the conference has produced incredible NHL talent such as the likes of Matty Beniers, Owen Power and Luke Hughes.
The conference was only an idea at first. In 2010, Buffalo Sabres owners Tim and Terry Pegula donated $88 million to Penn State in order to make the transition from a club hockey team to a Division I program.
The Nittany Lions made their NCAA debut in the 2012-13 season, which meant that it was the sixth Big Ten school to have a hockey program, the required number of teams for sponsorship under conference bylaws.
Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State disbanded from the CCHA, and Wisconsin and Minnesota left the WCHA. The conference did not begin play until the 2013-14 season. In the 2017-18 season, the Big Ten welcomed Notre Dame as its seventh member.
Since then, the Big Ten has become a college hockey powerhouse. Players want to play in the conference.
The Big Ten is pretty well represented in the Washington Capitals farm system. Three prospects currently play in the conference: Ryan Chesley (Minnesota), David Gucciardi (Michigan State) and Brent Johnson (Ohio State). The Capitals recently added a Big Ten alum in Alex Limoges, who played collegiately for Penn State.
“Every team we played in the conference was a really tough test,” Chesley said. “So you can’t take any weekends off. You can’t take anyone lightly.”
This past season, five out of the seven Big Ten teams finished in the top 20 of the final USCHO poll. Those being No. 2 Minnesota, No. 3 Michigan, No. 7 Ohio State, No. 8 Penn State and No. 19 Michigan State.
“It’s a competitive league. I think it’s the best league in college hockey,” Gucciardi said. “You want to be there. You’re playing against top guys who have a lot of skill and are projected to play in the NHL.”
Capitals camp invitee Simon Tassy is transferring from Minnesota State, of the CCHA, to Wisconsin. The Badgers are expecting to take a big step this year under new head coach Mike Hastings, formally Tassy’s bench boss at Minnesota State. This will be a brand new experience for the rising sophomore.
“I heard that it’s a pretty skilled league that plays hard. I’m pretty pumped just playing in all the away games. Everyone in the conference is really good,” Tassy said. “I think it’s a lot more like young guys land bigger names. The CCHA was really hard to play in because usually guys are older and more physical and like a lot of defense. I think the biggest difference might be more skill and more offense.”
Despite the rise in stock, the conference has yet to crown a national champion since its inception. Minnesota lost to Quinnipiac in the national championship this past year. The Gophers were the first Big Ten team to make it to the finals since 2018, when Notre Dame lost to Minnesota Duluth.
However make no mistake, the Big Ten produces some of the best hockey in the NCAA. Every game is tight, fast and physical and there is no bad team. Meanwhile, all the teams have some of the loudest fans in the nation.
By Jacob Cheris