We're just a day away from hockey! To preview the upcoming matchup with Minnesota, we sat down with Jeff Kilpatrick of The Daily Gopher. It's a good chance for you to get to know "The BC of the West." We have lots of respect for the University of Minnesota. We answered some questions for them as well, so make sure you head over there to check it out.
BC Interruption: You guys started your season about as hot as we did, winning nine out of your first ten games. The only problem with that is you lost to Vermont, at home. I think I speak for every Hockey East fan when I say "What?!" How have the Gophers grown as a team from the beginning of the year to now?
The Daily Gopher: What we saw of the Gopher team that started so strong in October and the one we saw at the West Regionals dismantle two very good teams in BU (you may know a bit about them) and UND shows us one very simple lesson: when this team is motivated they're very, VERY good. When they're not , well, they lose to Vermont.
BCI: The Gopher goalie, Patterson, has had himself quite a nice year. He's made every start this year and leads the league with a whopping seven shutouts. What's his style, and how does BC get the puck by him? I promise I won't tell Jerry!
TDG: Kent Patterson hasn't quite been on Parker Milner's level all season, but when he's on he can steal a game or two by himself- or at least it seems that way. He carried a less-than-stellar Gopher team a year ago, and thanks to new/old defensive coach Mike Guentzel, he's had a lot more help this year, mostly because Guentzel is teaching his defensemen to, you know, play defense. Novel concept. When Minnesota plays a sound defensive game in front of him, he's tough to beat. If the Gophers slack and allow some open shooting lanes like, say against UND in the Final Five semis a few weeks ago, well he can't be expected to stop all of them.
BCI: The BC defense has to be pretty confident after shutting out the nation's second highest scoring team in Minnesota-Duluth. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any easier as the Gophers are tops, potting 3.67 goals per game. How do the Minnesota forwards earn their schollies? Are they an up-and-down-the-ice team, or more of a possession style?
TDG: This is definitely a team that wants to skate, and there's few if any in the country who can skate with them. BC is arguably the best defensive team in the nation, which is what will make this game so fun. Top offense vs top defense- well that and because UND and BU aren't playing. Anyway, I'll be shocked if Jerry York lets Minnesota open it up, but the Gophers can play a puck-possession type of game, it's just not their preferred style.
BCI: We don't get too many opportunities to follow the western teams, much less the individual players. Who should the BC fans keep an eye on this one? Are there any players with the ability to completely take over a game?
TDG: Nick Bjugstad, a 2009 1st round pick of Florida, has been Minnesota's top player all season long, as the 6'4 sophomore center leads the team in goals with 25. Basically, he is for us what Chris Kreider has been for you. The Gophers can also match in you in the 5'7ish freshman scoring machine, as Kyle Rau is all of 5'8 but plays like he's 6'8, with 43 points in 39 games. He's feisty, physical, and just always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He's the kind of guy you love watching play because you notice him on every shift. But for me, the key guy for Minnesota is second line center Erik Haula. When the Gophers had their scorching start to the season he was the nation's leading scorer through the end of October. His play then dropped off for a few months and Minnesota was inconsistent. He's found his stride and scoring touch again since mid February and the Gophers are playing like a top team again. With Bujgstad and Rau on the top line and Haula anchoring the second, it makes Minnesota a very tough matchup.
BCI: It seems like everyone dislikes the Gophers... Haters gon' hate, I guess. But I'm pretty sure you guys have three of the top most intense rivalries in college hockey in Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin, and North Dakota. Is there one you hate the most, or does it depend on who last got the better of you?
TDG: We hate North Dakota more than anyone else and it's not close. We feel pretty much the same way about Wisconsin that Wes Mantooth does about Ron Burgandy- we hate them, but dammit do we respect them. At least a little bit. UMD I don't really hate- it's turned into a very fun rivalry and there's some strong dislike there, but not much hatred. North Dakota? **** them. The Team With No Nickname has the most obnoxious, loud-mouthed, whiny, trolling, bitching and complaining fan base on planet earth. When the Gophers struggled the past few seasons there were more gloating UND fans trolling Gopher message boards than Minnesota fans. This season, with Minnesota winning again they were suddenly very quiet- well except after their 6-3 Final Five win. It's just amazing Sue fans have so much time on their hands to pathetically troll Gopher sites all day. It's like they live in North Dakota or something. Oh wait.
BCI: How do Minnesota fans feel about the impending move to the Big Ten Hockey Conference? You get to go over there with the Badgers but lose a whole bunch of traditional opponents. Does it open the door for more marquee out-of-conference matchups? *Cough come to Conte Forum cough*
TDG: Yeah I would love to see a non-con series or two between Minnesota and BC. But the B1G conference? Any Gopher fan who is a hockey fan first hates it. I understand why the Big Ten is doing this, and I love what Jim Delaney has done for the conference in football and hoops and the cash cow Big Ten Network, but I wish he would have left hockey alone. Yes we keep Wisconsin, and playing top-notch programs like Michigan and Michigan State will be great, but you can't replace conference games and playoff games against long-time rivals like UND, UMD, St Cloud State, Denver, CC, and more. It's inevitable and we'll have to get over it, but I don't know a Gopher hockey fan who likes the move.
BCI: The Gophers don't have too many awful losses, although you guys did manage to fall flat on your face in your losses to Vermont and Northeastern. What do you notice in Minnesota's gameplay that has been the difference between a loss to Vermont and a curb-stomping of North Dakota?
TDG: As we talked about earlier, it's motivation. The loss to Vermont was bad, the one to Northeastern sort of understandable as Bjugstad and Rau were at the World Juniors and the team wasn't playing their best hockey heading into the Christmas break (ok, ok still inexcusable. I tried). But just look at the last two games against North Dakota: three weeks ago in the Final Five semis Minnesota has a 3-0 lead midway through the second and then turns on autopilot as UND scores 6 unanswered. Perhaps the worst period and a half in the history of humanity. A week later in the same building they beat the bejeesus out of North Dakota 5-2. Bjugstad said in a Puckdaddy interview that the 6-3 UND loss helped motivate and re-energize the team, and you saw the results the next week at the Regionals. For whatever reason they don't always show up to play, but I don't think motivation will be an issue Thursday.
BCI: Thank you for dropkicking the Terriers for us last week. You have brought great joy to our end of Comm Ave. This isn't a question; just, thank you. We owe you guys a beer or something. I think all of us in the college hockey world feel that way.
TDG: You're welcome. Please return the favor anytime you play UND. Or see any of their fans.
BCI: Let's cut to the chase. Give us your prediction for the varsity game on Thursday. And just for kicks, who do you think wins the JV matchup earlier in the afternoon?
TDG: I'll be honest -- no clue about the JV matchup between Union and the Sausage Kings of Chicago. Union plays good defense apparently, but they also play in the ECAC. The Abe Frohman's at least won a real conference, so I'll take them. As for the varsity game, shockingly I'm taking Minnesota. Your defense is great but you haven't seen an offense like this- well ok except for your last game when you shut out the #2 offense in the country. Or when you beat the #3 offense in BU back in February. So fine, your defense is pretty good. You haven't allowed more than three goals in a game with Milner in net since like 1934. I get it, BC is good. Really good. Like they've won 17 in a row good. And you know what? That's perfect because it means that for once the Gophers are the underdogs. Look, Minnesota is sometimes an underdog in basketball, always in football (unless you go back to the 1960's, but who can remember that far back? Exactly) but never in hockey. Even in their craptastic past few seasons, the Gophers were rarely dogs because, well, it's Minnesota and it's hockey. The only time this entire season Minnesota could be considered underdogs were way back in October against UMD, and what happened? The Gophs swept them in their own barn. If you want to get all technical, then perhaps they were underdogs in their last game too, when UND was the #1 seed in the West and had embarrassed the Gophs in their previous meeting in the same rink. Result? Minnesota victory. Motivation is the key for Minnesota, and playing in the Frozen Four against mighty Boston College and Minnesota's being told they can't win? I love it because we've seen all season what happens when the Gophers are motivated, and I believe it leads to a Gopher victory (let's say 5-3) Thursday night.
For more information on anything and everything about the Minnesota Golden Gophers, head over to The Daily Gopher. Be sure to follow them on Twitter as well. #1 Boston College takes on #8 Minnesota Thursday night at 8pm on ESPN2. Go Eagles!