MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Big Ten conference has taken tons of heat from college hockey fans in its five years of existence. But with three teams in the Frozen Four this weekend, Brad Traviolia, who heads the sport for the conference, is not exactly saying, “How ya like me now?”

“Conference affiliation, it’s a long-term play, if you will. I mean, you can’t put too much weight in any one game or any one season,” Traviolia said. “We’re very confident that we’re going to be successful. Now, I don’t think anyone has the expectation that we’re going to get three out of four Frozen Four teams every year.”

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It’s impossible to watch them all in St. Paul this week and not think conference realignment — at least this year — has been pretty good to the Big Ten.

“It’s a reflection of just how strong our conference was this year,” Traviolia said.

But it hasn’t been good for everyone. Attendance at all five of Minnesota’s programs has declined since the Big Ten started.

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“Every sport has its positives and negatives. They have their challenges and their opportunities. And I think hockey has a lot more positives than they have challenges,” Traviolia said.

Such as, talk that even more colleges could soon be adding hockey.

There are still many fans who blame the Big Ten and say the sport is worse off. But Traviolia believes it’s getting closer to the day where fans will credit the conference, and say the sport is better off.

Despite the struggles, the Big Ten still has its mind on the long-term play.

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“The traditional fan base, that are very intense, passionate about the sport, follow their teams, they come to the Frozen Four each year, it’s outstanding, it’s great. The question is, can you build on that?” Traviolia said. “And I think one thing that Big Ten hockey has the ability to do is perhaps, through our membership, expand the fan base. And so if we can get more fans to come to the Frozen Four, if we get more fans tuning in to watch teams, and to be an interested fan in college hockey, that’s where I think the Big Ten can help, and hopefully we will. “