Thursday, January 11, 2018

BLOG: A proposal to name the Big Ten conference tournament trophy

Note: While this isn't exactly Gopher-related, it doesn't fit in any other outlets and is Big Ten-related. 

This weekend when the Gophers host Michigan a new face will be behind the Wolverines bench. Mel Pearson took over this season for Red Berenson, who guided Michigan for 33 years. In that time he finished with 848 wins - the fourth-most all-time in Division 1 men's hockey - a record 22 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, national championships in 1996 and 1998, and turned around a Wolverines program decades past its glory days into a national contender. Seven of Michigan's nine national championships came during a time when Minnesota regularly made Rose Bowls.

Prior to facing Notre Dame last weekend, Michigan held a ceremony to officially dedicate Yost Ice Arena as "Red Berenson Rink." It got me thinking of a perfect way the Big Ten could honor the 78 year-old.

Name the Big Ten conference tournament trophy after Berenson.

It makes sense. When the Big Ten began sponsoring men's hockey in 2013-14, the conference declined to name either of the trophies awarded. To this day both remain nameless.

The Big Ten regular season (left) and conference tournament (right) trophies. (Photo: Nathan Wells)
The two trophies don't come with a generations-old backstory like the MacNaughton or Broadmoor trophies, or even the NCHC's Penrose Cup, whose backstory at least ties in the creation of the conference. (I imagine few Big Ten and college hockey fans outside State College would be happy with an Alvarez or Pegula Cup). There isn't a team that claims keeper of the trophy ownership, a la Michigan Tech and the MacNaughton.

Honestly, I like that the conference didn't force names.

Right out of the gate the Big Ten lacked history as a conference even if most of the teams have tradition in spades. Both need to be earned. It should be an honor; one with a rationale. The conference combined some WCHA and western hockey, Michigan-style CCHA hockey and a brand new program in Penn State trying to find its own sense of history and tradition.

The side effect is since other conferences have named trophies, including ones named right away, not having one does further point out the lack of history.

In addition, it is also hard to remember which trophy is awarded for the regular season and conference tournament, along with describing the achievement. Half the time the conference tournament ends up being described as "the one that's a jug." No one calls the Broadmoor "the house trophy." They call it the Broadmoor.

2017-18 marks the fifth season of the Big Ten sponsoring men's hockey. There's a new team in Notre Dame, an entire group of players who have gone through college only playing in the conference and an entire group of players who have gone through college only winning the regular season title before a new team joined. Inside the history and tradition-building this year feels like a next step from Big Ten hockey beginnings.

So it seems like a good time to name one of the trophies and name it after the recently retired coach for his contributions to college hockey and the Big Ten. It's the trophy that has more relevance to Berenson. Michigan won the 2016 Big Ten conference tournament. The Wolverines also played for the 2015 one.

At the same time, having the conference tournament trophy's namesake a longtime head coach is similar to the CCHA in Ron Mason.

(As for the regular season trophy, there's a future name who makes a ton of sense and would also combine the different areas of the Big Ten, but that's in the future.)

Naming the one that's a jug the Berenson Cup or Berenson Trophy connects the conference's history to college hockey, a coach that has won 2 national titles and over 800 games over three-plus decades. Naming the trophy is an honor that can be seen for generations to come and one that comes with a rationale. So does doing it this year, a year when the conference tournament format changes from the founding four seasons.

It's a good year for someone to earn the Berenson and bragging rights in a yet to be deterimined on-campus site.

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