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Gopher Hockey Notebook: "Thanksgiving in Boston" Edition

Minnesota visits Boston this weekend for games against Boston College on Friday and Northeastern on Saturday.

Gopher senior forward Seth Ambroz (17)
Gopher senior forward Seth Ambroz (17)
Minnesota Athletics

I have to be honest. The yearly games between Minnesota and Boston College have slowly become an annual treat. Since 2012, the Gophers (7-3-0,  0-0-0-0 Big Ten) and Eagles (7-5-0, 3-3-0 Hockey East) have played four times. All four have been entertaining despite the fact three have seen scoring blowouts (last season's 3-3 tie being the exception).

This time the two meet for a single game Friday (5:00 p.m. CT/6:00 p.m. local) in Chestnut Hill. The Gophers stay in Boston the next night, facing Northeastern (2-9-1, 2-5-1 Hockey East) at historic Matthews Arena (6:00 p.m. CT/7:00 p.m. local).

Both Don Lucia and Jerry York have been around the block, combining for over 1500 career wins. Somewhere in the matching maroon and gold colors are two veteran teams that have each been to 2 of the last 3 Frozen Fours. York's Eagles have won 3 national championships (2008, 2010, 2012) since 2008.

The two seasons since its last has been the longest stretch Boston College has had not appearing in the national championship game since 2006.

"It's huge for the end of the year because you know they'll be good throughout the year for the seedings come playoff time and tournament time," said Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) about playing BC. "It's a really big weekend for us."

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On the injury front, Minnesota looks to be getting back one upperclassmen, if not two.Both defenseman Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) and forward Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals) are making progress. Skjei has been practicing for the last week and will be making the trip to Boston.

Boyd, meanwhile, skated yesterday and "looked good," according to Lucia. He's been out since the third period of Minnesota's 4-1 loss to St. Cloud State October 31 The senior forward will be re-evaluated after today's practice to see whether or not he is in a position to play and go to Boston.

Lucia said last week that he wanted both to get a full week of practice before coming back. It'll be interesting to see if that happens for Boyd or whether he is rushed back into the lineup.

***

Playing two different games against two different teams does present several different challenges. The Gophers, coming off a pair of losses that count to UMD (and one that doesn't to the US Under-18 team), have a little more preparation this week. Senior captain Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) said the biggest difference preparing for two teams was watching Northeastern film on Saturday morning rather than their own from Friday's game.

Another issue is that Rau and company are facing a fresh team.

"I didn't realize until looking at the schedule that (Northeastern) doesn't play the night before," Lucia said. "We'll switch rinks after the game Friday and switch modes to play Northeastern Saturday."

Boston College is without its entire explosive first line from 2013-14. Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau (now with Calgary), Kevin Hayes (now with New York Rangers) and Bill Arnold (in the Calgary system) are all gone.

No team is going to have one single player replace Gaudreau's 80 points - a figure that hasn't been matched in college hockey over a decade - and the Eagles have taken Minnesota's system, one it also used during the 2012 national championship run, of getting scoring throughout the lineup. Only one player (junior D Teddy Doherty) is in double digits through 12 games. As far as forwards go, BC's top two point getters so far are a pair of Minnesota Wild draft picks in 2014 first rounder Alex Tuch (4G-5A) and 2012 fourth rounder Adam Gilmour (2G-7A).

The Eagles are averaging 3.25 goals a game even without dear Johnny Hockey, but also have a defense Minnesota has to respect.

"They're big. They're strong," said Rau. "They have a couple good skaters that can get up in the play so that makes it tough when you're forechecking and they get the puck you have to really backcheck because they'll beat you up the ice and they'll have a fourth or fifth guy coming. That's probably the biggest challenge. They're a well skating D.

Northeastern isn't the same team which beat the Gophers in the 2011 Mariucci Classic, however, the Huskies have some big names in Kevin Roy (Anaheim Ducks) and Mike Szmatula. They have struggled this year, though. NU is near the bottom in several offensive and defensive categories. Senior goalie Clay Witt has come back to earth after astronomical numbers during the first 3/4 of 2013-14.

Still, Minnesota is looking to focus more upon itself rather than who is on the other of the ice in order to get back on the winning track.

"There are areas of our game that we have to improve upon if we want to take the next step as a team," Lucia said.

"Guys know what we have to do," added senior forward Seth Ambroz."We know we have a tough task with Boston College coming up. We just got to be able to find a way to get back on track. Obviously losing three games in a row, that's a tough one to swallow, but we're sitting in a pretty good spot right now. It's just the way we lost is worse than the record shows.

"We're not there yet as a team and we just have to find a way to get back."

***

Minnesota will spend Thanksgiving Thursday as a group traveling to Boston before having a traditional Thanksgiving meal. It's the first time the Gophers have been to Boston - short of the 2008 Regional in Worcester against Boston College nonetheless - since January 2005 when it helped BU close Walter Brown and open Agganis Arena. The Gophers haven't been to Matthews Arena since November 13, 1987. The oldest players on the roster were almost 4 years away from being born.

It has been slightly less time since Minnesota went to Conte Forum although the team hasn't been recently. The previous trip happened the season before Lucia, who has 358 wins in 15 years at Minnesota, took over from Doug Woog. The Gophers lost and tied BC on back-to-back nights January 2-3, 1999.

"I'm looking forward to it. I've never been to their rink before," Lucia said. "That's one of the things you want to try to get to different rinks in your coaching career and they have a great program."

For the players, the road trip means a chance to find out more about one another and bond in an effort to play more for one another. That's important for a team trying to get going and gel together.

And for Seth Ambroz that also means busting out the olde time hockey staple of pranking one another.

"It's fun to get on the road with the guys," Ambroz said. "You can build some good team cammadarie, have some fun, joke around, do some team pranks and stuff like that. That's stuff that should be done. I kind of have a feeling that will be done this weekend. You need to have fun."

Other notes:

-Neither game this weekend will be televised. The Boston College game can be streamed on both BC and Minnesota's websites for a price. Saturday's is a free stream on Northeastern's website (www.gonu.com).

Radio-wise, Friday will be on My Talk 107.1 in the Twin Cities thanks to basketball. Saturday will be back on 1500 ESPN. (A nice tidbit from Minnesota play-by-play vox Wally Shaver - both him and color guy Frank Mazzocco broadcast the previous Northeastern road game in 1987 as the TV guys . Back then Hockey East and WCHA had an interlocking scheduling.)

-Over/under on answering the above question between now and Friday night is 10. Place your bets.

-This weekend's two games are the final two in the second annual Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge. Currently the Big Ten has a 22-20 lead, meaning if Minnesota can get a tie in one game (2 points for a win, 1 for a tie and a bonus point for a road win) the B1G will win for the first time. What that is I don't know. Maybe just bragging rights or hugs or Pairwise help or a trophy. And if there isn't a trophy go nuts and make another one internet! Go! Go!

-Minnesota's seniors are 10-4-1 against Hockey East in their career and have only lost once in the last two-plus seasons.

-Although not far from TD Garden - site of the 2015 Frozen Four -the Gophers won't be making a trip there this weekend. That's a post in itself.

-Ben Marshall giving his prediction as to who would eat the most at Thanksgiving: "It's got to be (6'3", 215 lbs) Ambroz. That's not just Thanksgiving. That's every dinner. He's the biggest eater. He goes for thirds."

-Last, but certainly not least: Happy Thanksgiving from me to you!

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter --