On an October night in 2002 a Minnesota freshman named Thomas Vanek scored the first goal of his team's 7-2 season-opening win over Ohio State at Xcel Energy Center. It was the first of seven straight by the Gophers and Vanek, who added an assist, in one game helped justify the hype which followed the Austrian into Dinkytown.
Fast forward twelve years later and college hockey opening night's biggest story was another forward with unbelievable hype delivering.
Boston University and 2015 draft eligible Jack Eichel came into the season as the most talked freshman hitting campus since Phil Kessel's saga nearly a decade ago. The 17 year-old, expected to be one of the top two picks in next summer's NHL Draft along with Erie (OHL) forward Connor McDavid, enters college as an expected savior of a BU team searching for one. He's a man - no, a teenager who couldn't buy cigarettes until the end of the month - that has, as Terriers head coach David Quinn said Friday, a world class shot among other strengths.
It was a hype that was Icarus flying too close to the sun, set up to be the latest in a series of buildings put up only to be torn down. Eichel playing against men four, five, six years older is a difficult task. Freshmen individually normally don't take over in college.
Any potential top five NHL pick enters with some hype and by the end there's Kessel derided for being on a third line, Kyle Turris not putting up a point per game or Erik Johnson looking at times more like a freshman defenseman than the previous year's #1 overall selection.
For two periods on the road Friday against UMass that was the case when it came to Eichel.
To be fair, it should have. The unexpected was the norm of an opening weekend for most teams. Any forecasts of what was to come were cloudy, parity showing its lovely face in a stretch where the only two teams in the USCHO top 13 who escaped without a blemish were the two with the shortest offseason. (Though even there Union came back both against AIC and New Hampshire while Minnesota nearly coughed up a three goal third period lead against Minnesota-Duluth in front of dozens.)
Michigan falling behind 2-0 against Ferris State after sixty-three seconds doesn't seem out of place anymore. #2 North Dakota's opening night was one to forget with Bemidji State, winless in Grand Forks since 1970, silencing Ralph Engelstad Arena after a 5-1 victory. #3 Boston College made some major mistakes on the blue line against UMass-Lowell - a team that itself a year ago lost on opening night to Sacred Heart (coming off a 2 win season) as the top ranked team - and lost 5-2.
#4 Providence fell in overtime Friday to Ohio State, Notre Dame lost twice at home facing two teams that weren't the Gophers and so on and so on.
The game is so much easier on paper than ice. That's where all signs pointed to Eichel before a third period that saw him score twice and set up two more goals with vision well beyond his years in BU's 8-1 win. Four points in an 11:45 stretch. A game that left the second intermission within grasp for the Minutemen left the arena as a rout.
Expected or not, Eichel's performance and ability to take over Friday is nothing short of remarkable. While matching McDavid's OHL performance in a league where it is tougher to score, the Terrier freshman made 4 points in a conference game seem easy. Only two players on Boston University had 4 points in a single game before playing Massachusetts.
In an opening weekend that embraces the crazy in college hockey; living up to the impossible hype in game 1 Friday is the craziest.
Still, maybe it's a reminder that for Eichel that Friday was just that. There are others to be played. The night before, Vanek once again made a debut for Minnesota at Xcel Energy Center. This time Vanek, not a Gopher but a member of the Minnesota Wild, was held without a point in a 5-0 win over the Avalanche.
There will be times when the expectations don't match, when the fans of tanking NHL teams wonder why Jack has the same performance North Dakota or BC opened the year. He may even begin to get lumped in with the hype crowd. Regardless, even in a year of talented freshmen, both draft eligible and not, Eichel is standing above the rest.
Friday night gave us the first taste.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate