As Big Ten hockey starts to heat up, one cannot help but think of the conference’s similarities to the Original Six teams that started the National Hockey League. Both started with six teams, both were upstarts at their inception, and like the NHL, the Big Ten hockey conference has potential to expand and flourish. Don’t think that the similarities stop there, the college teams themselves have stark similarities to their Original Six counterparts. Here are my picks for the Big Ten hockey teams’ Original Six counterparts.
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Note: These teams are based off of NHL teams of the Original Six era ONLY (1942-1967). This list in no way adheres to my personal biases or the performance of modern day NHL teams.
Detroit Red Wings
Besides sharing similar geographic locations, the Michigan Wolverines and the Detroit Red Wings are both elite teams with storied pasts and bright futures. Michigan is considered one of the “Big Three” of the Big Ten Conference, a team that commands respect and is extremely competitive on a yearly basis. Detroit was the premier American team in the Original Six. This was mainly due to Detroit’s large recruitment pool that included part of Canada and the fact that the team’s owner, James Norris, effectively controlled two-thirds of the NHL. Hockey has been a varsity sport in Ann Arbor since 1922 and has continued to grow and prosper ever since.
Now this may be blasphemous to say, but the Spartans have LOTS of similarities to the Original Six era Blackhawks. Like the Hawks, the Spartans have their work cut out for them in this new conference, having to dogfight with the “Big Three” with a program that is still trying to rediscover itself. It is constantly living beneath the shadow of its “Big Brother” (I prefer “little sister”) rival and relishes at an opportunity to usurp them. Finally, both teams can really surprise you on any given night or any given season. The 1961 Blackhawks stunned the NHL by becoming the first team other than Toronto, Detroit and Montreal to win the Stanley Cup in the Original Six era. The Spartans have proven that they can upset high-ranked teams and I see no reason that this program can not take the Big Ten by storm in the years to come.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers have been the top team in college hockey for many years. Even in times when they have not been dominant, they have always been competitive. The Montreal Canadiens were the be-all and end-all of the Original Six just as Minnesota will be the dominant force in the Big Ten Conference for the foreseeable future. Hockey is in both of these programs’ blood and you can never count these two teams out of a championship because they are just that good.
Like the Bruins of old, Ohio State pretty much flies under the radar in comparison to their northern counterparts. The Buckeyes have a storied history that is true, (they were a founding member of the CCHA and won the inaugural championship in 1972), but in recent times they have been quiet, yet poised for a rebirth. The Original Six Boston Bruins were doomed to obscurity, but will the Buckeyes share the same fate?
New York Rangers
Penn State is the newcomer to Division 1 hockey and to the Big Ten Conference in general. Like the Nittany Lions, the New York Rangers were the last team to enter the NHL and were a large part of making the Original Six possible. Like Boston, New York did not fare well in the Original Six, supposedly the victims of a “curse” and only lifted after their 1994 Stanley Cup triumph. The Nittany Lions were a very competitive team in years past, but that was in Division 2 play. It has yet to be seen if they can handle the punishment and competition that is the Big Ten Hockey Conference.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Just like the Leafs and the Habs, the Gophers and the Badgers are fierce rivals due to their geography, their program’s competitive nature and their shared inclusion in the “Big Three” of the Big Ten. Toronto was always nipping the heels of the Canadiens in the Original Six era and was always good enough to make the playoffs on a consistent basis. Wisconsin is in the exact same position, hounding at the Gophers at every available opportunity and yearning to make a Big Ten championship run every single season.
Jason Ruff is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.
Photo: Michigan State Athletics