Lou Nanne, one of the state's best-known hockey names, was on KFAN on Tuesday, talking about the Big Ten hockey conference. The Gophers and Wisconsin will leave the WCHA when the new six-team league starts in 2013-14.
His view on Big Ten hockey: "I don't think it is going to be a big mistake because of the money that they might generate from the Big Ten Network. I think there is opportunity here, and I say that because you always have the Christmas tournament that I am not enthralled with personally."
(The Gophers always have a four-team tournament between Christmas and New Year's Day. This season it was called the Mariucci Classic. The three other teams in it were Union of the ECAC -- the Dutchmen are in the NCAA tournament -- Ferris State of the CCHA and Bemidji State of the WCHA.)
"Some of the teams are good, some of the teams are sisters of the poor," Nanne said. "So I would like to see the Gophers take this opportunity to have a Minnesota tournament. Every year you have Mankato, St. Cloud, Bemidji and the Gophers in there. And I am not saying Duluth because I want Duluth on [the Gophers'] schedule every year.
"They have to find a way to get Duluth and North Dakota on their schedule every year. Those are the two teams that there is an intense rivalry with and you hate to see that lost. And you have to work with the WCHA, but I'd like to see those two teams every year.
"Then I'd like to see Denver and Colorado every second year. And if you do that, then all of a sudden you will have a better schedule than you ever had. You are going to be playing all the teams you've played, plus you are going to add the strong teams from the CCHA [Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are joining the Big Ten Conference, too]. And I think you would have a marvelous schedule.
'Whether the university wants to do that or not -- or thinks [that] schedule is too tough -- I don't know."
WCHA'S PLAN DIFFERENT
Nanne is right. If the Gophers are able to pick and choose which WCHA opponents they want to play and where, they could have a great schedule when they join the Big Ten Conference.
As a Big Ten team, they will play only 20 conference games -- two road games, two home games against the other five teams -- and will be able to schedule 14 nonconfernce (or 16 in any season they play two games in Alaska; games in the 49th state don't count toward the maximum 34 allowed).
Trouble is, the WCHA doesn't want the Gophers or Wisconsin just playing their elite, high-profile teams.
No. If the Gophers want 10 or so games against WCHA teams, they will have to play all of them. On a home and away rotation, WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod said on Monday.
McLeod said the WCHA has reached a tentative verbal agreement with the Gophers and Wisconsin on such a rotating schedule.
From the WCHA's standpoint, such an arrangement is the only kind that makes sense. McLeod wants all the conference's teams to prosper and have the chance for a big home gate against Minnesota and a chance to play at Mariucci once in a while.
How would this work. Let's use the simplest example. With Minnesota and Wisconsin gone, the WCHA would be down to 10 teams. Say the WCHA and Gophers agree to an interlocking 10-game schedule with the WCHA each season.
So, in four seasons, how many times would the Gophers play North Dakota and UMD? Remember, those are the teams Nanne wants to see on the Gophers' schedule. Two series each, one at home, one away.
Here is an example of how the Gophers' schedule could look:
2013-14: North Dakota at home, four other WCHA teams ... UMD not on schedule
2014-15: at UMD, four other WCHA teams ... North Dakota not on schedule
2015-16: at North Dakota, four other WCHA teams ... UMD not on schedule
2016-17" UMD at home, four other WCHA teams ... North Dakota not on schedule
GOOD HOCKEY EXPECTED
Nanne also said on KFAN on Tuesday that Gophers fans should expect good games at Mariucci.
"When you are going to ask the fans to pay the kind of money we are going to have to pay, especially when premium seating comes in," Nanne said, "you better have some good entertainment. And you will have great entertainment if you at least have the Gophers hockey tournament every year with [three other] Minnesota schools. That would be a big seller.
"And you get to play those teams every year and give those teams the notoriety they need to make those programs successful and keep Duluth and North Dakota every year on [the Gophers'] schedule."
That could be tricky to do.
* On whether Big Ten hockey conference will grow: 'I would anticipate other teams coming in the future, but right now they are not on the horizon. I know they would love to have Notre Dame come into the Big Ten Conference and that would be a seventh team in the [hockey] league, but that is not going to happen in the near future."
* Will being Big Ten Conference help Gophers in recruiting: "The University of Minnesota has a great name in the hockey world and around hockey cities. Not the WCHA, but all across the country. They will get more exposure in some areas that they haven't been before because of the television. But they still are pretty solid and sound in their ability to recruit players here."
* Who is hurt most by Big Ten hockey: "The teams that are going to suffer the most in this is Lake Superior State, Western Michigan, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan because they really depend on the Gophers -- Michigan Tech has been in the WCHA for a long time and that's going to hurt them, not seeing those teams [the Gophers and Badgers]. And the [other] ones really depend on Michigan and Michigan State coming there a lot. They won't get there as often."
U POLICY ALSO PROBLEM
The University of Minnesota Advisory Committee on Athletics in 2003 passed a policy that the school could not schedule opponents with American Indian nicknames.
The one exception has been in men's and women's hockey because the Gophers have been in the same conference, the WCHA, with North Dakota.
Seems the policy could become an issue in men's hockey when UND is in the WCHA and the Gophers are in the Big Ten.
So what does Nanne think? "If a mascot or a crest is the reason why they don't play, it is ludicrous," he said. "If that is an opponent that you have had forever, and it is an enticing, intriguing, entertaining and probably the best rivalry you have ever had in hockey you don't give it up."
Of course, Nanne doesn't speak for university officials.
Got to ask Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi if there will be a problem with scheduling the Sioux if their nickname isn't changed by the 2013-14. That battle seems to keep going on and on in North Dakota.