After Wisconsin beat Ohio State in overtime, Mark Zengerle said the game-winning goal was a blur.
That’s how I feel about the entire weekend.
Unfortunately I missed the first two games of the tournament, but flew in on Friday to catch the semifinals. It was a long day at the Xcel Energy Center, but everything was organized well, from game notes to press conferences.
But it was nothing compared to Saturday.
At the same time the Badgers and Buckeyes were playing each other for the Big Ten title in St. Paul, Minn., North Dakota was waiting and watching in Minneapolis, Minn., hoping for a Badger win. Their fans were watching there as well, as North Dakota had played in the NCHC consolation game at the Target Center earlier in the day.
If Ohio State won the Big Ten title, North Dakota would miss the NCAA Tournament.
Oddly, we checked Twitter from the Xcel Energy Center for reactions from the North Dakota camp as the Wisconsin-Ohio State game continued.
When Wisconsin’s Mark Zengerle scored the championship-winning goal on Saturday, the Xcel Energy Center went insane. And so did Minneapolis, where North Dakota fans were following the game (Brad Schlossman, North Dakota reporter, put together a great piece on what that situation was like).
As a reporter watching those moments and turning them into stories, and as someone who loves college hockey, the entire thing — from the first-ever Big Ten tournament to its implications for North Dakota — was incredible.
Especially watching the connection between St. Paul and Minneapolis that night.
Watching Wisconsin celebrate the first-ever Big Ten Championship at the Xcel Energy Center and hearing about North Dakota players celebrating with their fans just a city away was surreal.
I’m still in awe over the weekend, but here are my thoughts on the first Big Ten Tournament:
1. Scratch the Thursday game
I wasn’t at the Xcel Energy Center on Thursday, but I watched it on TV. A Thursday game at 2 p.m. doesn’t do wonders for attendance, especially when programs in the Big Ten are far away from each other. And especially this year, with, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan participating in the first game. It’s not possible or very practical for fans — and students — to go far for a tournament when their team might only play in one game.
There are a lot of different ways to run the tournament without a Thursday game, such as having the league’s top four teams make the tournament. Since the Big Ten is so small, I’m not sure that would work. But the first game could be turned into either one game or a best-of-three series that takes place one week earlier on the higher seed’s campus.
2. Later start time
I’m not against this because I missed the first few minutes of Saturday’s first game, but I think the conference would benefit from a later start time. Because it’s a Friday afternoon, a 2 p.m. game makes it harder for fans to make the trip — especially if they’re far away.
3. Sell tickets for both games each day
The Big Ten sold individual tickets for each game. That’s five different games over a three-day span. As I mentioned before, the distance is an issue for the Big Ten tournament, and it would make more sense if the league sold tickets that were valid for both games during the semifinals.
It would be more expensive, but probably encourage fans to stay from one game to the next. This year, fans from the first game were cleared out before the second. It would help with the attendance, which was slightly underwhelming — especially for the earlier games.
4. The local team has to be in the championship game
The only people rooting for Ohio State on Saturday were the band and Gopher fans who attended the game from the night before. There were a lot of Wisconsin fans on Saturday, but not as many on Friday.
On Friday night, when the Gophers played the Buckeyes, there was a good group of Minnesota fans. But since the school isn’t too far from the Xcel Energy Center, I was expecting a better turnout. I wasn’t sure attendance would be great for Saturday, but a big group of Wisconsin fans attended the game.
The tournament will rotate between St. Paul, Minn., and Detroit, Mich., for the next few years. Teams in the conference are very away and aren’t known much for traveling — especially with March Madness happening at the same time (Wisconsin men’s basketball was playing the same night as the men’s hockey team played for the championship).
Madison, Wisc., and St. Paul, Minn., are not too far away. But the distance between both those areas is not close to Detroit, Mich.
So what happens if Michigan doesn’t make it next year?
These are just some questions and thoughts I had while I covered the tournament. Overall I thought it was put together very well, and I’m interested in seeing how the attendance changes over the next few years.
The drama we saw over the weekend, especially with North Dakota fans cheering on Wisconsin, we might not see again. But it made the first Big Ten tournament very memorable.