The Boston College Eagles and the Minnesota Golden Gophers meet again on Sunday afternoon at Conte Forum in a clash of five-time national champions. BC is coming in with a solid 11-3-1 record. The Gophers are 5-3-2 - not a bad record at all, but the mood is decidedly mixed in Minneapolis about where this team is at right now.
To preview the matchup, we talk with our frenemies at The Daily Gopher - specifically, hockey writer Andy York.
BCI: Did Amanda Kessel finally graduate yet or is she going to come back in February and go all Godzilla on everyone again?
TDG: She's finally gone so you and Wisconsin fans can take a deep breath. She signed with the New York Rivetters and was the highest paid player in the NWHL before getting hurt again. I imagine the next time we all hear her name we will all be cheering for her to succeed as a member of the US Olympic Team in PyeongChang.
BCI: Why do you guys seem to lose to all the other teams in Minnesota?
TDG: That's a question Gopher fans would love to know the answer to. We are now 2-14 in our last 16 games against In-state opponents with both wins coming over Minnesota St. It's definately a major issue in the Gopher fanbase and one major reason why several Gopher fans would be just fine moving on from Don Lucia after this season.
The cheap easy answer is that the other MN teams love getting up to play the Gophers, but there is no reason that should create a streak like this one. Minnesota needs to do better.
BCI: Who are the players to watch on this year's Gophers team?
TDG: The Gophers appear to be a well rounded team this season. They are getting scoring from three lines on a regular basis and rotating through seven defensemen. One player who has gotten off to a bit of a slow start but has the ability to erupt at any time is senior captain Justin Kloos. Kloos had several max college free agent deals sitting out there for him after last season and decided to return to the U. He is the nation's leading active scorer and can be dangerous both putting the puck in the net and setting his teammates up.
One player who you will need to watch for on the power play especially is junior Mike Szmatula. You may remember him as he played at Northeastern before transfering last season to Minnesota. He lead the team in power play goals and just has that scorers knack around the net.
In goal is sophomore Eric Schierhorn. It's been a bit of a mixed bag for him this year as he has struggled mightily in some games but then comes back the next game and stands on his head. He for whatever reason seems to be better in the second game if the weekend lately which may bode poorly for BC, but only time will tell if playing two different opponents two says apart will be different.
BCI: Is everyone on the team still from Minnesota or have you chilled out on that one?
TDG: Not quite, but we try to be as exclusive as possible ;). In all seriousness that was something Minnesota was known for, especially in the Doug Woog era of the late 1980s and 1990s. Since Lucia took over in 1999 he has broadened the recruiting base to include all of the US and even the occasional dabble into Europe. You may have heard of this Thomas Vanek guy?
The one thing the Gophers have not done like almost every other college hockey team is recruit Canada heavily. In fact I don't think the Gophers have had a Canadian on the roster in about ten years. With the exception of junior Leon Bristedt who is from Sweden, the rest of the Gopher team comes from the good old US of A.
BCI: What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of this year's team so far?
TDG: The strengths gave definitely been the power play. They come into the weekend scoring on over 26% of their power plays. They have several players who can put the puck past your goalie and both units can be deadly.
Another strength as I said earlier us that Minnesota is getting consistent scoring from three lines and some good contribution from their fourth. It's not just a situation where if you shut down our top line you can take us out of the game.
Some weaknesses have definitely been the inconsistency from Schierhorn. He can stand on his head and make a great save one minute and then let in a really weak goal the next.
Additionally, Minnesota has not been a great third period team. With the exception of one game at Clarkson where the Gophers stormed back to win in overtime after being down 3-0 it's seemed that Minnesota has either had to hang on by the skin of their teeth to cling to a lead, or has outright blown big leads to lose as they did against St. Cloud State earlier this year.
BCI: The impression that I get from Twitter so far is that attendance seems to be down (a problem that's happening in this neck of the woods as well). What's going on?
TDG: It's a combination of a lot of things. One, Minnesota has the highest priced ticket in College Hockey. Season tickets average out to between $30-50 per game depending on where you sit and your required donation level. Single game tickets are absurdly priced initially and will come down for most games though tickets to the North Dakota series were selling for nearly $100 a game a few weeks ago. Fans just aren't willing to pay those prices to see in state teams, much less Big Ten opponents not named Wisconsin or Michigan.
Secondly Minnesota fans have not adapted well to Big Ten Hockey. They still long for the old WCHA. They absolutely hate playing the Ohio States and Michigan States of the world and miss having the in state games actually count for points in the standings. Even though Minnesota has won the first three Big Ten Regular Season Championships...you find fans who could care less, especially when they can't even make the NCAA Tournament like last season.
Thirdly for some reason I'll never understand the administration for the last few years has really cracked down on the fun in the arena. Several classic chants of my childhood no longer exist and the band gets to play less and less while the piped in loud music gets more frequent and louder. Add in the huge profiferation of ads during tv timeouts and intermissions and the atmosphere really struggles. People would rather watch at home on their tvs than pay a ton to go to the rink. Frankly some nights I don't blame them.
BCI: Predictions for your weekend trek to Boston? Are you going to lose to Northeastern again then beat the crap out of us? That was lame, albeit funny.
I wish I really had a good read on this team buy I don’t. They stink up a home and home vs St. Cloud and then have to crawl back late to win at Clarkson and tie St. Lawrence before tying and winning against North Dakota. Then when you think they have turned the page, they drop another stinker in the Friday night Minnesota State game.
Long story short, your guess is as good as mine. I'll say they come out flat but sneak away a one goal win at Northeastern Friday night 4-3 and then come back Sunday afternoon and win by two over BC 4-2. But frankly I wouldn't be shocked to see the Gophers get swept either. This team is just so inconsistent at the moment you don't know which one will show up.
Thanks again to The Daily Gopher for joining us for this preview. BC and Minnesota face off Sunday at 1 PM on Mike Mottau Day at Conte Forum.