Brett Sterling has 16 goals and 27 points for Colorado College. College football is preparing for a break before the bowl games that feels as long as baseball's offseason. College basketball is warming up with the likes of Lipscomb at Kentucky. And countless casual fans can't shake the aftertaste of the Falcons-Lions game when they think of the NFL.
What better time for the best weekend of the young college hockey season?
It's Rivalry Week without the catchy sponsorship tag, as Boston College-Boston University, Colorado College-Denver and Minnesota-Wisconsin dot the college hockey landscape this Friday and Saturday night.
How good are things for college hockey fans now that we've flipped the calendar to December? Wisconsin's last game was a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup at Michigan, normally enough to highlight any stretch in the schedule. But that pales in comparison to this weekend's events in Minneapolis.
"You're always looking to get to No. 1, but once you get there, there's added responsibility," Wisconsin forward Andrew Joudrey told The Capital Times. "Everyone's going to try to knock you off. We know Minnesota's got a great team, so this weekend's going to be not so much of them trying to knock us off, but them and us going for the top of the WCHA."
Here's a quick rundown of what to look forward to in the four biggest venues:
• At Minnesota: Gopher phenom Phil Kessel grew up watching the Badgers and will face them for the first time. Although that recruiting loss was a blow to Wisconsin, the Badgers have had the upper hand thus far, stringing together 12 games without a loss (10-0-2) and earning the nation's No. 1 ranking.
Kessel, the nation's top-scoring freshman (8-13-21 in 14 GP), and the Gophers have enjoyed success of their own after a somewhat slow start. Their six-game unbeaten streak is second nationally behind only Wisconsin.
• In Boston: The first taste of Hockey East's most storied rivalry arrives this weekend as Boston College and Boston University play one game at each team's home rink. Inconsistency has been a hallmark of the conference's teams thus far, but none more so than the 4-5-2 Terriers. They'll gladly throw that record out the window against BC, which has the fewest losses in conference play (5-1-1).
• At Colorado College and Denver: These two, who tied for the WCHA regular-season championship last year, begin their battle for the Gold Pan Friday night in Colorado Springs (ESPNU, 9:30 ET) before heading an hour north to Denver on Saturday. It's been a struggle so far for the defending champion Pioneers, due in large part to injuries, but a strong weekend against the archrivals can often cure all ills.
• At Miami (Ohio): Of these big series, this one might not qualify as the same kind of rivalry -- at least from Michigan's perspective. But there's no question that these two teams are the runaway successes of the CCHA in the first two months.
Even the smaller conferences are into the act this weekend -- Bemidji State welcomes Niagara in a series between College Hockey America's last two NCAA Tournament representatives.
"It always seems when we play, they are huge games," said Niagara forward Jason Williamson, the team's leading scorer with 17 points. "Even though we have played some big games this year, this is definitely our biggest weekend."
Teams across the country could be saying those same words. The College Hockey Showcase might have been last weekend in East Lansing and Ann Arbor. But taken as a whole, this weekend might well deserve that title.
IRMEN THE MAN
Lost in all of the "Phil Kessel vs. his hometown team" hype this weekend when top-ranked Wisconsin visits Minnesota is the fact that the Gophers' chances vs. Bucky's smothering defense have improved dramatically recently. And the potential difference-maker isn't even from Minnesota or Wisconsin.
North Dakota native Danny Irmen actually returned to the Gophers' roster two weeks ago for their win and tie at Denver, after missing nine games. Irmen broke a finger in the Gophers' season-opening home loss to Alaska Fairbanks, but has averaged a point per game since returning to the lineup. In last weekend's 2-2 tie at Michigan State, Irmen scored both Gopher goals in the first period, his first two of the season.
"He's such a good two-way player," said Gopher coach Don Lucia, who added that he doesn't think Irmen will be fully recovered from the injury until after Christmas.
Irmen is skating with a cast for a few more weeks and admits that he isn't close to being able to make a fist, but finding the net in East Lansing was a good, and fortunate, thing.
"Those goals were pretty lucky; I'm not going to kid myself," said Irmen, whose offense could be even more important against the defensive-minded Badgers. "But it was definitely nice to get the first one out of the way, and to have that second one come so quickly after was even better."
-- Jess Myers
NO PANIC IN ITHACA
When it came to goaltending in the 2004-05 season, the name on everyone's lips was Dave McKee of Cornell. He had a record-setting season last year, earning first-team All-America honors while finishing as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award.
McKee finished the year with a .947 save percentage and 1.24 goals-against average. The only thing more startling than those numbers is that he hasn't come close to matching it this season. Through 10 games he has only stopped 87 percent of the shots he has faced and is allowing 2.95 goals-per-game. It hasn't affected the mind-set of the junior netminder from Irving, Texas, one bit, however.
"I feel really good about myself. I'm doing my job," McKee said. "My job as a goalie is to come in and give the team the best chance to win and make some key saves. That's what I'm focusing on. Last year is gone and you really have to put that in the past and focus on this year."
Cornell has a 6-3-1 record entering this weekend's Quinnipiac-Princeton games, but a few of the wins have come in the stifling manner that the Lynah Rink Faithful have come to expect and appreciate. The Red blew two leads against Niagara last weekend before eventually rallying for victories. McKee thinks it's just a matter of time before Cornell turns things around.
"We've got a great group of guys here and we know how to win. We've been there and we know what it takes," he said. "I can't stress enough that it's a young season. You're going to lose some games here and there."
-- Joe Gladziszewski
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Goals for Colorado College's Brett Sterling, the national leader for the second straight year. The next-closest players have only 11. Sterling warmed up for this weekend's series with archrival Denver by netting a hat trick at Boston University Saturday, including the overtime goal in the Tigers' 6-5 win.