We're back! The New York Yankees of college hockey are back! Get in line for the championship parade now! Your Minnesota Golden Gophers hockey squad will start the 2012-13 season in its rightful place on top of the college hockey world as the preseason #1 team in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. Defending national champs Boston College? You Ivy League-wanna be's will have to settle for #2! Take that! You might have been #1 last year, but this year, it's all Minnesota...at least...in the preseason.
I tried, ok? As much as I want a preseason ranking to mean something, as much as I want this to take away the sting of the butt-whoopin' Boston College put on the Gophers in the Frozen Four last year, it's just a ranking. Do I think the Gophers should be ranked as the #1 team in the country? Absolutely. When all you lose from a Frozen Four team is your goalie, a second line winger, and your third line center, you should be the #1 team in the country. Especially when arguably the best player in college hockey returns (thanks again Nick Bjugstad!), and a loaded recruiting class is added to it. But I'm not going to argue with the USCHO poll that had BC in the top spot and the Gophers #2. BC is the defending champs and if they want to start there, fine. What matters is where everybody finishes.
Remember the Gophers were a preseason pick to finish middle of the pack in the WCHA last year before their torrid start turned heads and rocketed them up the rankings. BC had a so-so first half before going on that ridiculous winning streak to finish the season and claim the title. So while a preseason ranking doesn't mean anything once the teams hit the ice, a small part of me still feels good to see the Gophers back on top, and the hope is this is a sign we're done with missing the NCAA's and WCHA Final Five, and we're back to considering that making the NCAA's is a given, and if they don't win at least a couple of rounds it's a disappointment. This SHOULD be an elite hockey program, one of the best in the country, and it looks like we're getting back to that. I know we as Minnesotans generally temper our expectations for our sports teams because, well, it's Minnesota and our sports teams usually let us down (the last one's who didn't was the Twins back in 1991. And of course the Minnesota Lynx. We can't forget them).
But this program should be the exception to that rule, a juggernaut, the New York Yankees of college hockey. It's a program that's roundly hated around college hockey and opposing fans LOVED kicking the Gophers while they were down, but they don't look to be down anymore. If you're new to college hockey or just want to cheer for a winner for a change that calls Minnesota home, this is your chance. Plenty of room on the bandwagon to come along for what should be an epic ride as they run through the last year of the WCHA (that will mean anything), and hopefully all the way back to the Frozen Four. Only this time, let's hope they turn the tables on BC and it's the Eagles who are sent home a game early. Minnesota will get a pre-playoff shot at BC in the Mariucci Classic December 30th, but won't really get a chance to settle the score until sometime in March.
Until then, get ready for what should be a wild and exciting season as the #1 ranked Gophers and it starts this Friday and Saturday against Michigan State at Mariucci. The Gophers start the year with the upper hand on BC, and we'll see if they can keep it and earn it for the next six months. Hockey season is about to begin, and the juggernaut is back, and for once, it's not a team Minnesota is playing, but Minnesota themselves. That's something I could really get used to.