Tonight marks the start of Frozen Fridays, our B1G hockey doubleheaders that run for eight straight weeks. We begin at 6 PM ET with Frozen Friday: Face-Off, hosted by BTN’s Rick Pizzo and hockey analyst Paul Caponigri, followed by Michigan State at Ohio State and Michigan at Wisconsin. The night concludes with Frozen Friday: Final Rush at approximately 11:30 PM ET.
Extra Points took a few minutes to sit down with Rick about what he’s looking for from tonight’s games and how the conference will do overall in its inaugural season.
Extra Points: Tonight is the first of our Frozen Fridays. What are you most looking forward to in this increased coverage?
Rick Pizzo: I think it will really be something to be able to showcase what the Big Ten Conference has in terms of talent level and depth. We’ve seen some of it in the non-conference, but now that we’re in the meat of the season and have games every weekend, you know who you have to beat to get to where you want to go in the conference race, and to get into the NCAAs. Now’s the time when you’ll see just how good this league is.
Extra Points: Do you see any team separating itself?
Rick: Minnesota has been consistently the top team in the nation all year, and Michigan in the top 10. Wisconsin has had to deal with a lot of injuries, and when they get everyone back they’ll be really good as well.
Extra Points: What can fans look for in tonight’s games?
Rick: The first game, Michigan State at Ohio State, is a really interesting matchup, because you have two teams that play very different styles, both really need to be able to take that next step. Over the past three to four years, they’ve been in the middle of the pack and I see this is as kind of a stepping stone game for them. I think they need to get off to a good start to give them a little confidence and make them believe they can compete with the top three in the league.
The second game, Michigan at Wisconsin, is our headliner tonight. Wisconsin was the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten and has had to fight injuries, including to their goaltender Joel Rumpel, and now Nic Kerdiles, who is one of their best players. Michigan, on the other hand, hasn’t come out of nowhere, but I think they’re much better than most people expected, especially in terms of goaltending. This game should be played at a quicker pace than the first. It should be fun to watch.
Extra Points: The Big Ten is a conference of rivalries. With the new hockey league, where do you see the next one forming?
Rick: Minnesota and Wisconsin has been an amazing rivalry for some time. They both came over from the WCHA – and they really dislike each other, and that will continue. When you throw Michigan into the mix, and with the success they’ve had, they’re becoming an almost instant rival with Wisconsin and Minnesota. They’re another elite opponent, and that will turn into a rivalry as long as those two teams are as good as they are.
I think the other thing for people to watch in this league is coaching. In terms of coaching skills, it’s pretty amazing for a league that’s just being formed and will be pretty interesting to watch as season goes on. You’ll see Wisconsin’s Mike Eaves today without his best player. Michigan’s Red Berenson has had an amazing 30-year career. Michigan State is coached by a former conference commissioner and Ohio State’s Steve Rohlik and Penn State’s Guy Gadowsky were both distinguished players in their own right.Hockey coaches have to juggle lines and figure out which combination of guys who aren’t hurt work best with each other. It’s a really amazing skill they have.