At some point my traveling to Minnesota will mean something more than 2,400 frequent-flyer miles.
Let me explain. I was born in Boston. I grew up a Boston College fan, went to school at UMass-Lowell, and pretty much became a default Hockey East fan.
I’ve made only two trips in my lifetime to the hockey Mecca — last April to my now-favorite hockey building, the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for the Frozen Four, and this past weekend to the nice-in-its own-right Mariucci Arena for the Mariucci — er, Dodge Holiday Classic.
Two visits with the opportunity to watch a Hockey East club walk away with hardware. Two plane rides home thinking, “Gee, almost.”
Saturday’s game pitting Boston College against Minnesota for the Dodge Classic championship — much like last April’s national title tilt — went into overtime with the Gophers coming out on top, 2-1. Once again there was that enormous crowd cheer, followed by the somewhat-addictive “M-I-N-N-E-S-O-T-A” salute.
The translation, though, was that once again Minnesota had kept Hockey East from displaying some sort of supremacy in college hockey’s continual battle of East and West.
As my fingers started typing, I thought that I was probably the only person in the building having a bit of deja vu all over again. That was until I talked to Minnesota coach Don Lucia.
“What’s funny is that I told the guys before the overtime that the last two tournament games we took into overtime, we won them both,” said Lucia, referring to his club’s first-round victory in last year’s WCHA playoffs against North Dakota and, of course, the current most-recognized goal in Minnesota hockey, Grant Potulny’s overtime winner against Maine for the national title.
So I wasn’t the only one who got tingles in his spine as the puck, as in last year’s winner, seemed to move in slow motion across the goal line in overtime.
Right now, though, as much as I’ve got that feeling, Saturday’s game might better be described as a preview of things to come.
With Boston College and Minnesota both hanging around near the top of the national polls, don’t be surprised to see these clubs rematch come March or April.
Both clubs have solid, high-potent offenses. Both have playoff defenses.
And with Travis Weber starring lately in goal for Minnesota, and BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen possibly turning the corner with an MVP-like performance this weekend, we can now say that both teams seem to have confident goaltending.
“I thought [Saturday’s game] had a playoff-type feel to it,” said Lucia. “It was that type of game that you wouldn’t take chances with the puck. That’s how you handle things come March.”
Boston College coach Jerry York, who, with Saturday’s loss, remains one win back of Wisconsin legend Jeff Sauer for fifth on the all-time wins list, agreed.
“Both teams have to get a bit better,” said York. “But the standard of play that we saw [Saturday], that’s what you see come March. These are two really good hockey teams.
The reality behind Saturday’s game was that each club was shorthanded. Both coaches thought that the missing players — for Boston College, Ryan Shannon was at the World Juniors and Patrick Eaves (who should also have been) was injured; for Minnesota, Barry Tallackson and Gino Guyer were both at the World Juniors — canceled one another out when judging these clubs head-to-head.
The translation: Saturday’s lightning-fast pace would only improve with full rosters.
The argument for a postseason meeting is further fortified.
This writer would love to see another game as entertaining and as exciting as Saturday’s. But there’s still a lot of hockey to play.
Each team will embark on a long road home. The WCHA and Hockey East — no matter how much this is debated — are the two toughest conferences in college hockey, and many clubs judge their seasons by how they perform against nationally-ranked teams. For Boston College and Minnesota, with a large number of ranked conference opponents, that’s about a third of their schedules.
Without a crystal ball, it’s impossible to know whether the Eagles and Gophers will meet again. With this year’s West Regional tournament being held at Mariucci, I might even get another chance to voyage to the beautiful Twin Cities to see the Eagles play.
Then again, are the frequent-flyer miles valuable enough to warrant getting that darned cheer further ingrained in my head?
Well … yes.