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Continued: Big Ten, Gophers both searching for an identity in men's hockey

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Last update: October 11, 2013 - 12:37 AM

“It’s ambitious,” Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman said. “It’s not going to pay off right away. It’s a longer term, three- to five-year thing. Building the brand of Big Ten hockey will be a gradual project.”

BTN said it’s making an investment in hockey with hopes that it will become a revenue-producing sport. The initial incentive for everyone involved is exposure, Silverman said.

Seniors Curtis Gedig of Ohio State and Mac Bennett of Michigan are convinced the exposure will pay off immediately. Gedig is from Canada and Bennett from the East Coast, both of which broadcast BTN, they say. Each said the national and international exposure will make the Big Ten the destination conference in college hockey.

The Gophers, who lost traditional conference rivals such as North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth with the move, are beginning to accept the new era of college hockey. Senior co-captain Nate Condon said the WCHA was fun, but the Big Ten will produce new rivalries which will make more sense to outsiders.

“It will be more of a national recognized rivalry,” Condon said. “I think people will understand it more from an outsider’s perspective because it is the Big Ten rivals.”

Building the team

Scattered across the desk of Gophers coach Don Lucia are his hypothetical pieces to a puzzle. There are 26 varieties of shapes. Only about a third have found a home in Lucia’s picture of success.

Co-captains Kyle Rau and Condon anchor the center with goaltender Adam Wilcox. Then there is the large void Nick Bjugstad, Erik Haula, Nate Schmidt, Mark Alt and Zach Budish left when they exited early for the pros. Each would have been a senior this year.

Lucia is counting on returners Boyd, Sam Warning, Christian Isackson, Jake Parenteau and Brady Skjei to help fill the void. But it will be the eight freshmen that will have to hold Lucia’s picture together.

“Our freshmen are going to play a pivotal role in our success just because there are so many of them,” Lucia said. “We have to count on them to play some pretty significant roles. And can they make the adjustment quickly?”

Despite the uncertainty, Lucia appears excited. The last time he was in this situation, Bjugstad and Haula were freshmen. Their seasons were up and down, Lucia said, but their growth helped build a pair of NCAA tournament teams the following two years.

This year’s freshmen class is touted as one of the best in the country, led by Hudson Fasching, Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos. In Saturday’s exhibition, the freshmen accounted for three goals and three assists. If the newbies can keep this pace, the Gophers might not need a season of growth to get back to the NCAA tournament.

“I don’t really know what the identity of this team is at this point in time. I think we have some skill level,” Lucia said. “Do we have all the ingredients we need to have? I don’t know.”

The same could be said of the Gophers’ new league.

 

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