With the Big 10 reps and school Presidents on board to create their own hockey conference it raises many questions. First I'm happy to see Penn St. join the fray, but the idea of adding the new conference doesn't excite me. I realize it's because my beloved Gopher's no longer will have the advantage they have when recruiting against the likes of Mankato, Bemidji and St. Cloud etc. But then I realized "Wait a minute...they don't even have THAT anymore."
Very quietly Marriucci is the second oldest arena in the WCHA conference. Some of these new facilities may not be as nice, but schools can point to their buildings being newer. I'm also not so sure the WCHA, the Gopher's current conference, will suffer that much without Minnesota and Wisconsin. Duluth and North Dakota will be in the Frozen Four next weekend in St. Paul and something like the Final Five at Xcel every year can still draw. I would worry about the CCHA which loses Michigan, Michigan St. and Ohio State. Duluth, Denver and North Dakota have much stronger programs than Northern Michigan, Lake Superior St. and Bowling Green.
Here are my three thoughts on what needs to happen for the Gophers and Big 10 hockey to work.
1. Gophers fire Don Lucia.
This isn't the first or last time I've talked about it. Doug Woog was fired after two mediocre seasons, the Don is on season number four. The rumors of a contract extension seem to be a bit premature and Pat Reusse hit a home run with his report of a very well known ex-Gopher voicing his displeasure to Athletic Director Joel Maturi. Yes, Lucia had some health issue two years ago, but the obvious displeasure from NHL GM's over their draftee's development can't go unnoticed. Also there's this fallacy that we're still getting the cream of the crop talent as opposed to five years ago. Five years ago the players defecting were Erik Johnson (No. 1 overall pick in Draft), Kyle Okposo (Islanders' top line scorer) and Phil Kessel (All-Star this year for Toronto) Now who's leaving early? Jordan Schroeder (28 pts in 55 games for Manitoba) and Nick Leddy (Already traded once and averaged 14 minutes of ice time for Chicago before being sent to Rockford.)
So the premier talent isn't coming as much as we think, their not improving and the program is (at best) treading water.
And Lucia deserves an extension how?2. Gopher's holiday tournament should transform into a Minnesota showcase
I like Lou Nanne's idea that instead of Minnesota's holiday invitational being the Gophers and three random teams it be turned into a tournament featuring the Gophers, Mankato, Bemidji and St. Cloud. This gives it a Final Five feel.
There's so much history with No Dak and Duluth that they need to be on the schedule every year, and this gives the other teams a shot at the big, bad Gophers.
3. Two more teams need to be added
Under the proposed set up, the Big 10 teams will play two home and road series against one another, which would water down match ups. The Gophers couldn't sell out the Target Center against Wisconsin last year, partially do to the apathy of the fan base, but now eight games a year are suppose to spark the rivalry?
Indiana, Purdue and Illinois specifically should be looking to add hockey programs, I wouldn't expect Northwestern, Iowa or Nebraska to jump on the bandwagon but adding more teams in the fold would help in not diluting the product.Will any of this happen by 2013? Possibly. I would not be surprised if local hockey fans hate what's become of the product, but these three specific ideas could spark the Gopher's program on a micro and macro level, help the Big 10 succeed in their plans and improve College Hockey's product overall.