|Michigan and Ohio State are just two of the Big Ten hockey programs that will begin battling for a conference championship in 2014. (Photo by Getty Images) |
– For Drew Miller
, who grew-up in the shadows of the Michigan State campus in East Lansing, playing college hockey was the best thing that could happen to him.
“If I went the junior route I’m not sure I would be here right now,” the Red Wings forward said. “I think I needed a little bit more time to mature and the college route was the best for myself. Definitely have some great memories of playing in college and down here at Joe Louis.”
The Big Ten Conference hopes to great more hockey memories when it embarks on its inaugural men’s ice hockey season, which will conclude with a championship tournament.
On Thursday, the Big Ten announced that it will play its first championship in 2014 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., and alternate the following three years between Joe Louis Arena.
St. Paul will also host the league championship in 2016, while Detroit will host the six-team tourney in 2015 and 2017.
“Those are two great arenas to play in,” Miller said. “Michigan and Minnesota both have good fan bases with a lot of hockey knowledge, so I think it’s two great places to be.”
The tournament will include all six teams – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin – in a single-elimination format. Thursday’s quarterfinals will pit the No. 3 seed vs. the No. 6 seed and the No. 4 seed vs. the No. 5 seed.
The top two seeds will open tournament play in the Friday semifinals, with the top seed facing the No. 4 or 5 seed, and the No. 2 seed facing the No. 3 or 6 seed. The championship game will be held on Saturday.
The Red Wings currently have three former Big Ten players on the roster, including forwards Justin Abdelkader
and Miller who were former Spartans standouts. Defenseman Brendan Smith
was a stellar performer for the Badgers before the Wings signed the former first-rounder, though he was at Toronto St. Michael’s when he was drafted in 2007.
“I think creating that league will be good for college hockey,” said Miller, who was selected by Anaheim in the sixth-round of the 2003 draft. “I think more TV games and a little bit more exposure will be good for bringing players into college hockey instead of the junior route.”
The Wings have drafted a total of 14 student-athletes from Big Ten schools, including MSU standout Joe Murphy, who was the first player selected in the 1986 NHL draft. The London, Ontario, native played 15 seasons and helped the Edmonton Oilers win the 1990 Stanley Cup.
Detroit also drafted Minnesota defenseman Reed Larson, who was a three-time All-Star for the Wings. An immensely popular sports figure in Detroit, Larson eventually played 13 seasons for six NHL clubs.
Defenseman John Taft, who played four seasons at Wisconsin, is the only other Big Ten alumnus drafted by the Wings to play in the NHL. The Minneapolis native was selected in the fifth-round in 1974 and played in 15 games with the Wings during the 1978-79 season.
NHL referee Wes McCauley, who played collegiately at MSU, was an eighth-round draft pick of the Wings in 1990. The Toronto native never played in the NHL. He worked Game 4 of the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series on Wednesday night. Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose