ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The Big Ten is ready to take the ice.
The venerable conference built by storied football programs is about to start its first sanctioned hockey season.
"Big Ten anything is a big deal, no matter what sport it is, and it's an honor to be a part of such a prestigious league," said Penn State junior forward Tommy Olczyk.
Coaches and key players from all six teams assembled on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center, the site of the inaugural conference tournament from March 20-22. That event will alternate between St. Paul and Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in the coming years.
The Big Ten formation shook up the sport at the major college level, resulting in the creation of a second league (National Collegiate Hockey Conference), the dilution of one (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) and the extinction of another (Central Collegiate Hockey Association). But the coaches and players were naturally buzzing with excitement about the new setup, rather than lamenting the loss of some long-running conference rivalries.
Michigan coach Red Berenson, who played for the Wolverines in the late 1950s when they were in the WCHA with the Gophers, recalled a fierce rivalry with the potential for a modern renewal.
"Whenever we played Minnesota you could tell just from the fans it was like a Stanley Cup game, and I'm hoping that's what we get back into this conference," Berenson said.
The league's first official game will be on Oct. 10 when Michigan hosts Boston College, and the Big Ten Network is planning to show Friday night doubleheaders throughout the winter, the hallmark of the enhanced brand these programs are anticipating. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State came from the CCHA, and Minnesota and Wisconsin left the WCHA. Penn State, which played as an independent in its inaugural season in the sport, is the upstart underdog.