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Minnesota vs. Maine Preview

And so it begins.

There are 8 other games tonight to start the college hockey season, but none are bigger than the game at the XCel Energy Center tonight between #3 Minnesota and #11 Maine. Tonight's game should be a fast-paced, hard-hitting game between one of the best from the west against one of the best from the east. But as much as tonight's game is about the new season and each team starting their future, it's also about exorcising the demons of the past. It's not often you hear about stories of redemption so early in the season, but that will be the case tonight.

Maine coach Tim Whitehead deserves credit for even being willing to bring his team to Minnesota, which has been less than friendly to him in his career. The Black Bears' last trip to Minnesota ended with a 1-0 overtime loss at Mariucci to the Gophers in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. Prior to that, their last trip to Minnesota was 2002, when they suffered a heart-breaking overtime loss to Minnesota at the XCel Energy Center in the NCAA championship game. A win tonight wouldn't easy the pain of losing that title game that Maine led until the final minute, but it would have to be at least a little personally satisfying to coach Whitehead to finally beat Minnesota in Minnesota.

Despite being one of the top teams in the country, the Gophers will also likely have redemption on their mind. It's been about seven months since they were unceremoniously eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Holy Cross in the first round. The Gophers have publicly stated that they've put the Holy Cross game behind them, but a win tonight would help wipe away the bad taste left in their mouth from last spring.

And the XCel Center may be the perfect place for the Gophers to start their season. The beautiful arena, just miles up the road from their campus, has turned into a house of horros for the Gophers. The Gophers have lost their last 4 games at the X, after winning 9 in a row their. Their last win at the XCel Center was the infamous road game they played there against Minnesota State.

The XCel will be a particularly apt setting for one Gopher. Tyler Hirsch will make his return to the Gopher lineup tonight, and what better place to do so than the site of his public meltdown 18 months ago that presumably has caused him to only play in three games since? After laying his stick at center ice after the WCHA Final Five semifinal, Hirsch will pick it up again tonight with a chance to continue his promising career.

Tonight will also be a fresh beginning for starting goalie Jeff Frazee, who was elevated to the starting role after the recent suspension of teammate Kellen Briggs. Frazee's freshmen season was a disaster, in which he was publicly called out by his coach for his lack of work ethic and poor attitude. Frazee rededicated himself to working hard this summer, and has reportedly lost 20 lbs and in his the best shape of his life. Tonight will be his first opportunity to show the world that he can live up to the high expectations that everyone had for him.

It should be a great game tonight, and even better, there's some potentially great storylines to watch. It's a perfect match-up, in a perfect setting, and the perfect way to start the season.