If you live in the Twin Cities, you woke up Sunday with snow on the ground for the first time in several months. It was a not-so-subtle reminder of the changing of the season.
That's right, everyone: It's hockey season.
There were snow flurries here Saturday, but there were also goal flurries. Nick Bjugstad of the Gophers netted an official hat trick at Mariucci Arena, while Mikko Koivu had an unofficial one -- scoring short-handed, on the power play and in a shootout -- to help the Wild prevail at Xcel Energy Center.
Any grumbling while putting on hats, gloves and boots Sunday could be soothed by this: Minneapolis-St. Paul is home, at least for now, to the No. 1 team in the NHL and the No. 1 team in men's college hockey.
The Gophers, after splitting this weekend in a home-and-home series with St. Cloud, could very well lose that designation Monday when the new polls come out. The Wild, tied with Chicago for the NHL's lead in points with 27 (and technically owning the tiebreaker over the Blackhawks), soon could lose that designation as well.
And yes, we are well aware that hockey champions are not crowned in November.
That said, after three consecutive years of missing the NCAA tournament and NHL playoffs, respectively, the Gophers and Wild are at least sparking early thoughts of glory in the State of Hockey. (Note to Duluth readers: We are well aware UMD won last year's NCAA title. No need to send an e-mail. We're just focused here on two specific teams.)
Knowing it was still very early, we still posed a question to readers earlier this week: What would mean more this year -- a Stanley Cup for the Wild, or an NCAA title for the Gophers? The answers were pretty well split, showing the passion that exists for both teams.
Said one reader: "Personally, I think I would rather see the U win a national championship again. But the Stanley Cup is the Stanley Cup. Bring that home to Minnesota and the X won't have an empty seat for years." Said another: "A national championship with a team that is (largely) homegrown would mean much more to the State of Hockey."
Pretty much every local hockey fan, of course, would cherish either. Speculating about whether that could happen might be premature, but it still had to feel pretty good for a Minnesota hockey fan to wake up on Sunday morning and realize we could be in for a long, cold, beautiful winter.