We've always considered the stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas to be a crucial segment of the college hockey season. Play well during that period, and you head home for holiday break on a high note and return to campus with confidence and momentum. Take a look the latest Friday Four-cast and you might be able to sense the increased urgency taking hold across the country.
Colorado College vs. DenverFRIDAY (at CC) AND SATURDAY (at DU)
Colorado College ranks ahead of Denver in every major statistical category (scoring offense, scoring defense, power-play and penalty-killing success rates, fewest penalty minutes) and both teams are among the top seven in the Inside College Hockey Power Rankings and the voter-driven polls. Still, a Tiger sweep would be considered a pretty big upset.
That's not a rub on Colorado College, which has been one of the nation's biggest surprises to date. But its résumé is fairly pedestrian; the team's biggest achievement is a win and tie at Wisconsin in the Badgers' first series of the year.
The Pioneers' cache, meanwhile, is more impressive with a sweep of North Dakota and back-to-back shutouts at Minnesota -- the Gophers might be down, but that's still a quite an accomplishment. Don't be surprised if the goaltenders, DU veteran netminder Marc Cheverie and CC neophyte Joe Howe, are the deciding factors in this series.
Boston College at UMassFRIDAY
It's the Minutemen's annual attendance-drive game when Boston College visits. UMass has adopted and promoted the slogan Operation 8K with a goal of drawing 8,000 fans or more to Mullins Center for the contest. Last year's Operation 8K game drew 8,389 fans, which is the single-game home attendance record for UMass.
They're hoping to exceed that this time around, and it's not just a matter of rivalry for this game. It's a big game near the top of the Hockey East standings. These two teams are currently tied for second place, just two points behind New Hampshire, although UMass has two games in hand on both UNH and BC. The Eagles won two of the three meetings between the teams last season.
Notre Dame at MiamiFRIDAY AND SATURDAY
Someone taking part in INCH's weekly chat at ESPN.com asked how we saw the series between the Fighting Irish and RedHawks shaking out. Our answer? Expect two ties -- Notre Dame is 2-0-3 in its past five games, while Miami is 1-1-4 over its past six outings.
If either team has a glaring weakness, it's the Fighting Irish's inability to score. Notre Dame averages just 2.4 goals per game but it's not for lack of effort; in the 10 games the Irish have both outshot their opponent and attempted 27 or more shots on goal, their record is a ho-hum 4-4-2.
Quinnipiac at YaleFRIDAY
A matchup of ECAC Hockey's Connecticut-based teams brings regional rivalry into the picture, but it's also an important game in the ECACH standings. Quinnipiac is a perfect 7-0-0 in league games so far but travels to take on the defending league champion in this matchup, which is 2-1-2 through five league contests. If the Bulldogs can find a way to slow down Quinnipiac and hand the Bobcats their first league loss of the campaign, it could slow down Quinnipiac's runaway start to the season.
After the game against Yale, the Bobcats have five games against teams that have a combined record of 25 games under .500.
Excellent slate of games in the Capital District this weekend as Colgate and Cornell both visit Rensselaer and Union in ECAC Hockey action. Boston University hosts BC on Saturday. Think Terrier fans will remind Eagle supporters which team is reigning national champ? Think Heights denizens will remind the hosts which team is in last place in Hockey East? Minnesota Duluth welcomes North Dakota to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. The Bulldogs are off to their best start in 14 years. RIT can extend its winning streak to 10 with a sweep of Holy Cross in Worcester. Ohio State hosts Michigan, which is 2-0 in the post-Robbie Czarnik era. That begs the question, why does someone who's turns 20 next month go by the name Robbie?
On TV: Sunday -- New Hampshire at Vermont, ESPNU, 3 p.m.
For more on college hockey, check out Inside College Hockey.