Michael Russo has covered the National Hockey League since 1995. He has covered the Minnesota Wild for the Star Tribune since 2005, after 10 years of covering the Florida Panthers for the Sun-Sentinel. He uses “Russo’s Rants” to feed a wide-ranging hockey-centric discussion with readers, and can be heard weekly on KFAN (100.3 FM) radio and seen weekly on Fox Sports North.

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Russo: Mariucci Classic story lines

Posted by: Michael Russo under Gophers Updated: December 28, 2012 - 12:41 AM

With the NHL and NHLPA still having no plans to meet at the moment as the league hits crunch time toward the possibility of the 2012-13 season being canceled, the Gophers' men will be back in action this weekend for the Mariucci Classic.

No. 1-ranked Boston College, Air Force and Alabama-Huntsville will be in town for games Saturday and Sunday.

The 11-3-3 Gophers take on Air Force on Saturday at 7, then meet Boston College on Sunday at 7. That game will be the first time the two teams meet since BC beat the Gophers 6-1 in last season's national championship game Frozen Four.

That's obviously a huge storyline this weekend, as well as using the 11-2-1 Eagles as a measuring stick as the Gophers look to kickstart a second half following a first half most would consider just par because of the expectation level heading into this season.

The Gophers have been practicing since Christmas night. They were understably sluggish but have gotten better as the week's gone on, coach Don Lucia said. Goalie Mike Shibrowski, who has been hurt since early November, has returned to practice and can return to the nets anytime the Gophers need, Lucia said.

Forward A.J. Michaelson missed Wednesday's practice with the flu but should be fine for this weekend. The Gophers are without defenseman Mike Reilly, who is at the world junior tournament in Ufa, Russia, and was plus-4 today in a 8-0 pounding of Germany.

Couple other storylines this weekend:

Boston College Jerry York can set the NCAA men's hockey wins mark Saturday if the Eagles beat UAH. It would be York's 925th win, breaking longtime Michigan State coach Ron Mason's mark of 924.

"It's kind of neat that he has the opportunity to do that here and our fans will have the opportunity to see history being made," Lucia said.

Also, Air Force is coached by Frank Serratore, the father of Gophers hard-hitting junior forward Tom Serratore. Frank is a native of Coleraine, Minn., and boasts a squad made up of 11 Minnesotans. He is in his 16th season at Air Force, having led the Falcons to five Atlantic Hockey Association championships and five NCAA appearances, including last year. This year, they're 5-7-4.

Saturday night, from the bench level, Frank Serratore will watch his son play in person for the first time in his collegiate career.

"I’m sure it’ll hit me when warmups come around on Saturday," said Tom Serratore. "My mom, sisters and brother are going to have a little more nerves going."

Serratore said he is fairly sure most his family will be wearing Air Force blue, but he hopes they will wear maroon and gold Sunday.

Frank Serratore is a true character. He's the epitome of it's not a job, it's a passion.

Here is a Q&A about facing his son (some great quotes here):

On playing his son: "I hope it’s fun. I hope it’s fun. I haven’t thought a whole lot about that because I’ve got to prepare my team to play the No. 4 team in the country on their Olympic size sheet. Tom came home for Christmas and people tried to get us into it a little bit, and we tried to avoid it. He wanted to skate with our guys over at the Academy, though, and I did make him dress in the visitors’ room. I said, ‘That’s your home over there until after Saturday night, my friend.’"

What will it be like?: " I’ve played lots of games against my brother [Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore]. You have to separate it. You have to have the task at hand. People were saying, ‘You won’t be sad if the Gophers win and your son scores the winning goal.’ My response was, ‘You think I want to listen to him chirp me the rest of my life. Are you kidding me? I want the winning goal to be scored by a guy in blue. That’s what I want.’ I hope we’re ready. There can’t be a coach other than the Gopher coaches that’s seen Minnesota play more than me. I go home after our games on Friday and Saturday night and turn on FSN and watch the game that I’ve TiVoed."
 
Is it awkward: "I think it would be a lot weirder if it was like the Staals or the Sutters and you’re actually out there and have to finish a check against a guy with the same nameplate on his back as you do. Our deal’s a little bit different. I’m a coach. I coach. He’s a player. He’s got to play."
 
On Serratore's new level as a player (six goals, leads in hits): "I couldn’t be more proud of him. The kid, he loves to play. He works so hard, he cares so much, and you see that in his play. I think the fans of Minnesota appreciate that. He’s kind of like the people’s player. He’s an everyday guy. Let’s face it, the Gophers have a lot of supermodels in their lineup, and he ain’t one of them. But as a buddy of mine says, it takes a lot of different instruments to make up an orchestra, and he ain’t Mick Jagger in this rockband, but if he’s not in the lineup, there’s something missing. You have to have that type of element. My hats off to the Gophers’ staff. When they recruited him, they sold him on they needed that element. I wasn’t real hip on him coming here because of the number of star players that come here. He’s not that kind of player. But you look at what’s transpired, he’s found his niche on this team. And on every great Gophers team that’s ever been, they’ve had a guy or two like that. You have to have that element. He knows what he is and he takes pride in it. He came here because he wanted to come here, not because I wanted him to come here."
 
Would you have recruited your son? "Absolutely. But like his old man, he didn't have the reading, writing and arithmetic. Tom was a good student but not to the Academy level. … You need a 25, 26 ACT to get in there, but you only need about a 12 or 13 to coach."
 
Have you coached against Tom before? "At the Select-17 Sports Festival in St. Cloud. He has a twin brother, Tim whe's at Augsburg. I coached the gray team. Tim played on the green team and Tom played on the orange team. I beat Tom’s team. Tom’s team beat Tim’s team and Tim’s team beat mine. So we all had a 1-1 record, although the boys claimed the tiebreaker went to them because they each scored a goal in the game against their dad (laughing)."
 
If you know Frank Serratore, he's a human YouTube clip. Here's a classic from earlier this year after a 5-1 WIN over Penn State.
 
By the way, Serratore was right. Penn State won 5-1. His next news conference should have been, "Told ya!"
 
Tom Serratore says, "That's normal to me."
 
I asked Frank Serratore about this:
 
"You are what you are. A lot of coaches either don’t know or they forget, we’re in the entertainment business. People want to see the faces behind the mask and behind the bench and the personalities. I don’t have to go out there and take game stats and spout off the freaking power-play percentages. They don’t want to hear that. They can look that up on the internet. They’ve got you guys writing about it and talking about it on the broadcast. It's the way I've always been.
 
"Like talking to you makes the trip for me. A good game Saturday night, that'd be the icing on the cake. If not, good for Tom (laughing)."

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