It's an interesting time for Boston College to be gearing up to face the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
While BC fans have been talking since the departure of Johnny Gaudreau about a "rebuilding year," for Minnesota, this is "the rebuilt year." After about a decade of great talents coming and going without staying long enough to form a critical mass that could establish itself as the nation's premier championship contender, this year's team finally seems to be the one. They came into the season as preseason #1 and on paper look to be the deepest and most talented team in the country, boosted by names very familiar to college hockey fans, names that feel like they've been around for ages at this point: Wilcox, Rau, Warning, Ambroz, Reilly.
That said, they come in to this game in the midst of a minor tailspin. Two weeks ago, the Gophers carried a 7-1 record and their #1 ranking into a series with in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth—and they were summarily stuffed by the Bulldogs on consecutive nights. One week later, Minnesota returned to the ice in an exhibition game against the USA under-18 national team, and lost 5-4 in OT.
Make no mistake, the Golden Gophers are going to be in the picture all year and I expect to see them in Boston in April. (They may indeed be our best hope to ward off the Eichelpocalypse.) But most great teams go through a tough streak at some point of the season, and this could be that time for Minnesota.
On the flip side, BC's coming in with a little bit of confidence after three straight wins to snap a dour stretch of play earlier in the month. While all have come against inferior competition, BC showed some signs of improvement and developing a more balanced attack.
BC is rarely a heavy "underdog" in a hockey game but it's fair to say they will be on Black Friday at Conte Forum. But they will have every opportunity to take advantage of a Gopher team making a rare cross-country trip, and BC should have plenty of motivation here to use this game as a signal that they remain contenders this season.
After the Gophers come and go, BC needs to immediately turn the page and be ready for a trip down to Providence College on Saturday night. Providence had a slow start to the season after being tabbed as the early league favorite, but their play has improved in the past few weeks, beating UNH last weekend and splitting with UVM two weeks ago. PC is now 5-5-1 on the young season and, much like BC, is hoping to put themselves in a favorable pairwise position prior to the holiday break.
I think it's fair to say that a split this weekend, regardless of which game BC won, would be pretty satisfactory. Nobody is really expecting BC to beat Minnesota, but it's not out of the question. The Gophers aren't unbeatable and BC is still a very good team. And then as for Providence...that's a tough league game on the road, but against a team whose start hasn't been any more impressive than BC's. A win over either team this week would go a long way toward demonstrating BC can beat good teams, not just the bottom-dwellers—and that would be a great boost going into the holidays.