I think hockey fans across Gopher Nation can agree – it’s been a long break. After nearly three weeks of rest, the Gophers will be back on the ice this evening for Minnesota’s annual holiday tournament, the Mariucci Classic. The puck drops on Saturday at 4 p.m. with the reigning NCAA champions, Boston College taking on the University of Alabama – Huntsville.
Sounds like a boring game, right? Maybe so (it probably will be). Currently ranked number one in the nation, the BC Golden Eagles are expected to win this one, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it’s a high-scoring game.
The UAH Chargers (3-14-1) stumbled into their winter break after being swept by Wisconsin, who put up nine goals to UAH’s one over the duration of two games.
During the fist match, UAH managed a mere nine shots on goal, the fewest allowed in Wisconsin history. However, tonight’s game definitely deserves attention, as it may be one for the history books. Assuming BC does grab the win, head coach Jerry York will become the winningest Division-I college hockey coach in history. He is currently tied with former D-I coach Ron Mason (Bowling Green State, Michigan State) at 924 wins.
Next up is the much-anticipated Serratore family feud, as the Gophers take on the Air Force Academy at 7 p.m. AFA head coach Frank Serratore, a Minnesota native, is Gopher defensemen Tom Serratore’s father. The Falcons boast five Atlantic Hockey Association Championships under Frank’s guidance as well as five NCAA appearances (including last year). The match will be the first time Frank gets to see Tom play in person since the junior began his collegiate career. Serratore Sr. told the Star Tribune’s Michael Russo that Tom was home in Colorado Springs over the break and was allowed to skate with the Falcons, so long as he got dressed in the visiting locker room. He added that despite other’s attempts to rile the two of them up about the upcoming game, the both surprisingly “tried to avoid it.” We won’t mind seeing the Minnesota native go down this time.
Even without the father-son matchup hype, the game will be a good one. As you might have guessed, the Air Force Academy has very high admission standards, but here’s a fun fact you might not have heard: in order to be admitted to the Air Force Academy, student must obtain a nomination, usually from a member of Congress (although, if the President or Vice President nominates you, that’s alright, too). Even after the student has obtained the nomination, it doesn’t guarantee admission. The point is, these kids know what it takes to get the job done, while one of Minnesota’s biggest problems this season has been the inability to play all three periods. We’ve seen it time and time again – two solid periods and one lackluster, giving the opposition a chance to walk away with a win or tie.
Just two periods of solid hockey isn’t going to hold up against AFA, and will give the Golden Eagles a golden opportunity to embarrass Minnesota for the second time. You can bet that’s an opportunity BC will capitalize on, too. The Gophers will be looking for revenge after the humiliating 6-1 loss to BC at the Frozen Four last April, but this time around isn’t going to be any easier than it was eight months ago. The little bit of good news for Minnesota is that the Eagles will be missing their top scorer, Johnny Gaudreau, who is playing in the World Junior Cup for Team USA over in Russia this weekend. On the other side of that though, Minnesota will be minus freshman Mike Reilly, for the same reason. Look for seniors Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney to be making noise for BC this weekend. The two have 19 and 16 points this season, respectively.
On another note, goaltender Mike Shibrowski has recovered from that mystery injury that locked down the starting spot for Adam Wilcox, although I’m guessing fans at Mariucci will see Wilcox in net, especially against BC. My prediction is for BC be crowned champions, with Minnesota as the runner up, followed by AFA and finally the boys from the south, UAH at the bottom. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong and the Gophers end up on top at their own house.