Two years ago in Providence, R.I., Minnesota and Boston University were battling for the right to play in college hockey’s national championship game.
The Terriers scored four third-period goals to defeat the Gophers 7-3 en route to an NCAA title. Overall, BU has appeared in four straight hockey final fours. Minnesota has made 12 straight NCAA tournament appearances.
Quite simply, tradition is not a foreign word to either team.
But there will be more than just pride on the Target Center ice Saturday night when the two teams face off in the annual Hall of Fame Classic.
Tradition aside, both teams appear to be in a transitional year. Although the definition of transition may still include the possibility of a 25- or 30-win season at schools like Minnesota and BU, neither team comes into this season with the same mystique they had in recent years.
And even though Saturday’s game is just an exhibition, neither team is treating it as such.
“When you get 12,000 to 15,000 people in the stands, people pay attention,” Parker said. “It’s as much of a real game as we’ll play all year. We’re measuring ourselves against one of the best programs in the country.”
Minnesota is doing the same.
“We have a good idea of where we’re at but we don’t know for sure,” said Gophers co-captain Casey Hankinson. “Saturday should be a good test.”
Minnesota goalie Steve DeBus, commenting on the first two weeks of practice, said he doesn’t notice a falloff from last year.
“Right now it seems like we never stopped,” he said. “We just took a couple of weeks off and we’re right back at it again.”
It’s not as if the programs are starting over. There are, however, several new faces on both teams — specifically, Minnesota’s defensemen and BU’s forwards.
This weekend’s contest will likely be a low-scoring affair. As both teams struggle to find their scoring touch, they will likely depend on experienced goaltenders — DeBus for Minnesota and the Terriers’ Tom Noble and Michel Larocque.
Gone from Minnesota are Hobey Baker Award winner Brian Bonin, goalie Jeff Moen and four defensemen. If junior Mike Crowley and sophomore Erik Rasmussen had turned pro — something that was rumored this summer — the Gophers would be even thinner.
BU was hit even harder than Minnesota, particularly on offense. The Terriers lost Hobey Baker runner-up Jay Pandolfo and Bob Lachance, who led the team in assists last year, to graduation.
In addition, the team lost seniors-to-be Mike Grier and Chris O’Sullivan, who both departed for the NHL during the summer.
These losses have left both teams with less depth and an increased dependence on young players. Consequently, both coaches are anxious to see how everything will fall into place this year.
ù Gophers coach Doug Woog said DeBus will likely play the majority of Saturday’s game, and possibly all of it. Woog said he wants DeBus to be ready for next weekend’s series against Colorado College.
ù Look for Crowley and freshman Ben Clymer to see a good deal of ice time together on defense.
ù BU leads the all-time series by an 11-10 margin. Because the game is an exhibition, it does not count on the all-time series record.
ù About 1,000 tickets still remain for the game, which will begin at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at the Target Center.