[COLUMN] Penn State Didn’t Ruin College Hockey, But You Might
Go to Twitter’s search bar and type in “[Penn State/Big Ten] ruined college hockey.” Scroll down past actual fans joking about the Nittany Lions’ decimation of an entire sport, and you’ll find some pretty angry folks.
For the uninformed, hockey came to the Big Ten in 2013 (a season after Penn State went DI). Minnesota and Wisconsin left the storied WCHA to join the brand new conference, which had a few implications. In-state rivalries that spanned decades and drew huge crowds were severed. Fans had to travel significantly farther to watch teams on the road. Some argue quality of play decreased, but that’s certainly debatable. Either way, many Gopher and Badger fans have developed a sense of apathy for their teams and they blame the Big Ten (and Penn State for willing the league into existence).
After talking to 33 Minnesota fans, I understand where they’re coming from. Not all of them believe Penn State ruined college hockey — and they deserve credit. An unexpected amount of passionate responses took me to strangers’ glory days. They took me through decades of season tickets and family bonding and marriage proposals and conference championships. I heard stories reminiscent of the way people come together for Penn State football. 67 years of conference play is over because of something flashy and new. I get why that sucks.
The most compelling argument I heard came from an unlikely source — Matthew Cavender, president of the Michigan Tech student section.
“When [Penn State]’s student section is getting pumped up about playing the Michigan Wolverines or the Minnesota Golden Gophers, think about how much easier that is than to get kids excited about playing the Alaska Nanooks or, once again, the Alabama Huntsville Chargers,” he said. “Sorry, I’m still kind of salty because this weekend we had such a bad showing, but to an extent I understand why Tech fans aren’t exactly bonkers to play the Seawolves.”
That is undeniably frustrating — to be clear, my issue isn’t with the Matthew Cavenders of the world. Despite his frustration, he still shows up. He wrote me hundreds of words and his passion basically punched me in the face. His team was dealt a rough hand that I hope the NCAA works out soon. The Big Ten is a new conference with some glaring faults to work out. If you can acknowledge that and not completely condemn it or the entire sport in general because of it, this plea isn’t for you.
This is about Minnesota and Wisconsin fans who stopped attending games and actively thwart any excitement Penn Staters express about their No. 1 hockey team. Your resentment towards Big Ten hockey and Penn State is unfair at best. At worst, it’s irreparably harmful to the game you claim to love, a game enduring a major transitional period.
Let’s review everything you think is wrong with the Big Ten.
It Isn’t A ‘Bus League’
Almost everyone who reached out voiced concern about the importance of proximity in college hockey. You’re right, regional closeness absolutely establishes heated rivalries and makes it easier to get to games.
But this also means your sport isn’t expanding. There’s charm in the underdog nature of hockey compared to college basketball and college football — it feels like a well-kept secret between you, me, and John Buccigross. Small schools like UMass Lowell and Union routinely topping the rankings seems like justice in the corrupt world of NCAA sports. But college hockey going somewhat mainstream benefits the sport at all levels.
“College hockey gets such limited coverage through traditional sports media networks that it’s really hard to follow or get into unless you are exposed to it first hand. If new schools can start up hockey programs and give their fans, students, and alumni a reason to care about college hockey, it would be a great way to help college hockey break into new markets and gain popularity,” Roar Zone president Chris Godissart said. “If you can add more schools to the landscape, you’re going to generate more interest in the sport on those campuses and in those regions.”
There Aren’t Any Rivalries
And there won’t ever be if you keep not caring. Cherish the memories you’ve all made through your past rivalries — they sound beautiful. It isn’t going to be like that in the Big Ten for a while obviously, but it never will if you don’t at least attempt to enjoy this. You can still create all those traditions your parents gave to you with your kids. Who says your son can’t meet his wife at the Big Ten tourney one day, just like Twitter user @B1GMistake_ met his at the WCHA tourney?
There Aren’t Enough Teams In The Big Ten
This is true, and it will change. We’re in a big time transitional period, folks.
Big Ten Teams Aren’t Good
You realize this includes your team, right? I’d love to see more Big Ten vs. Hockey East match ups, but just because the B1G doesn’t get to play these teams and constantly compare itself to Boston College or Boston University doesn’t automatically make it a bad conference. I promise you’ll see more Big Ten-Hockey East match ups in the next few years. Also, the thing about calling teams “good” and “bad” is every team is constantly evolving, and those terms are subjective.
Penn State Hockey Is Not Fun To Watch
This is the most mind-boggling grievance of them all. How can you think the team known for just shooting the damn puck is boring to watch? How can you watch Andrew Sturtz throw himself in front of the net a la Bobby Orr and change the channel? Does a 6’7″ forward from Russia bore you? Maybe it’s the fact this team went from club to No. 1 in the nation in the matter of five years.
I’m willing to debate about how much the USCHO Poll actually matters. I’m willing to talk strength of schedule. You will never convince me that Penn State hockey is not fun.
Give the Big Ten a chance. What do you have to lose?