Now that the appetizer has been served, it's time for the main course.
The Gophers did a praiseworthy job Saturday not looking past Air Force and brushing off the rust from not playing in three weeks by easily swallowing up the Falcons, 4-0.
But now comes the Sunday Showdown every Gophers fan has been waiting for -- No. 1 Boston College vs. No. 4 Minnesota -- with the Mariucci Classic trophy on the line.
"I told our guys, 'It's not often you get the defending national champs, the No. 1 team in the country in your own building, so it's a good measuring stick,' " coach Don Lucia said. "It's not the end-all ... but we need to play them, we need to find out where we're at."
Add the tiny fact that it was the Eagles who ended the Gophers' season last April in the Frozen Four, and the drama is scrumptious.
"It's a great challenge for us," said Erik Haula, who scored the winning goal and had an assist against Air Force for his 26th career multi-point game. "It'll be nice to play them again. If you can't get fired up for them, I don't know what has to happen."
The Gophers (12-3-3, 6-0 against nonconference teams) have won 12 of the 21 previous Mariucci Classics, but Jerry York says his Eagles don't want to leave without the trophy. They will be without leading scorer Johnny Gaudreau, who like Gophers defenseman Mike Reilly is in Russia representing the United States in the world junior championship.
The Gophers put together a complete effort against the Falcons. In addition to Haula, they got goals from Ryan Reilly, Kyle Rau and Nate Condon, two assists from Nick Bjugstad and 18 saves from Adam Wilcox, who recorded his third shutout.
Wilcox preserved a 2-0 lead in the third period by denying Ryan Timar on a breakaway.
"Goalies can be rusty coming out of the break, but he seemed to be spot-on tonight and obviously he'll have to be [Sunday]," Lucia said.
With his twin brother, Connor, out for the season because of a knee injury and younger brother in Russia, Ryan represented the Reilly Bros. valiantly by buzzing all night in his first game since Nov. 16. It was only Ryan Reilly's sixth game, having been scratched in seven in a row and 12 of 18 games this season.
"We wanted to get him back in to see how he would do, and he answered the bell," Lucia said. "When a guy plays like that, he deserves to keep playing. He had good energy, and his speed was evident."
Reilly, 21, scored 32 goals and 73 points for BCHL champion Penticton a season ago and is a product of Holy Angels. His first college goal came on a beauty when he crashed the net and roofed Christian Isackson's pass over Jason Torf's blocker for an oh-so-important 2-0 second-period lead. It came after Haula banked his team-leading ninth goal and 35th of his career off Air Force's Jason Fabian. Haula is four points from becoming the 80th Gopher to register 100 points.
"I'd call it a good bounce," Haula said of his goal.
The game also featured hard-working Gophers forward Tom Serratore going up against the team coached by his father, Frank. He had two shots and got a hug from dad on the ice after the game.
"The kid, he loves to play," Frank Serratore said Thursday. "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."