Wednesday, March 25, 2009

That Championship Season

A look back at the 1977-78 Terriers

by mh82

Flip the calendar in reverse and travel back to the fall of 1977.

In Washington, a former peanut farmer from Georgia is the first Democrat to occupy the White House since Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter is in the initial year of what will ultimately become a challenging and difficult four-year term.

Earlier in 1977, U.S. movie goers are introduced to Star Wars mania, as the George Lucas film becomes one of the most popular and highest grossing films ever.

ABC is the king of the TV airwaves, with a trio of the network’s shows, Laverne and Shirley, Happy Days and Three’s Company, filling the top three spots in the weekly Neilsen ratings.

On the radio dial—in the days long before MTV, iPods and personal CD players—a wide range of music is broadcast, including “Hotel California” by the Eagles. “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, “Peg” by Steely Dan, “Lido Shuffle” by Boz Scaggs, “Rock and Roll Never Forgets” by Bob Seger and “More Than A Feeling” by Boston. Movie themes also receive plenty of radio play, including “Gonna Fly Now” from Rocky and “Nobody Does It Better” from The Spy Who Loved Me. Just before Christmas, the Bee Gees would revive their career and help spur a national cultural phenomenon known as Disco by contributing songs to the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever, which also helped launch John Travolta’s acting career. Of course, the biggest music news of the year may well have been the death of a pioneer in Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley, on August 16.

For baseball fans in Boston 1977 was a trying season, as they witnessed the New York Yankees winning their first World Series title in 15 years, after defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. The Red Sox, despite winning 97 games and hitting a Major League-high 213 home runs, still finished 2 ½ games behind the Bronx Bombers in the final AL East standings. The Boston Bruins, victims of a 4-0 sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the ’77 Stanley Cup Finals, would again advance to the Cup Finals in the spring of 1978, only to fall again to Habs, this time in six games.

Several miles north of the Bruins’ home, Boston Garden, Boston University hockey coach Jack Parker assembled his 1977-78 team for preseason drills at Walter Brown Arena. On March 12, 1977, the Terriers became only the second ECAC team ever to win four straight league championships—matching Cornell’s feat from 1967 through 1970—after defeating New Hampshire 8-6 in the championship game at the Garden. The win over the Wildcats capped a thrilling tournament run by the Terriers that also included victories over top-seeded Clarkson (7-6 in the semifinals, after BU scored three times over the final 3:57 of the third period to stun the Golden Knights and their fans who were eagerly anticipating a memorable triumph over the three-time defending ECAC kings of the hill) and Boston College (8-7 in the quarterfinals, in a back-and-forth contest that was one of the most heart-pounding games ever played in the long history of WBA).

As the 32-year-old Parker surveyed the Brown Arena ice, he observed the 15 lettermen he had back from that 1976-77 team, giving the Terriers an excellent core of veteran players to begin pursuit of a fifth straight ECAC crown. Among the returnees was the solid goaltending tandem of senior Brian Durocher and junior Jim Craig. The defense also looked to be in excellent shape with senior Dick Lamby, in his first full season in a BU uniform after transferring from Salem State and spending a year with the U.S. Olympic team, juniors Jack O’Callahan and Bill O’Neill, and sophomore Bill LeBlond.

In keeping with his usual philosophy of building a team from the goal out and having his players take care of business in their own end, Parker liked the look of his team from a defensive perspective.

“We’re going into the season with more experience at defense than we had last year,” Parker told SID Ed Carpenter in the season preview section of the BU media guide. “We have four of our five regular defensemen back plus our two goalies. We’re deep, talented and experienced.”

But this wasn’t a team that was only about defense. BU also boasted a combination of firepower and grit up front with senior Matt Marden, juniors John Bethel, Bob Boileau, John Fox, Marc Hetnik, John Melanson and Mickey Mullen, and sophomores Tony Meagher and Dave Silk. A pair of junior transfers, forward John Corriveau (from UNH) and defensemen Scott Nieland (from North Dakota), added to the Terriers’ depth.

“I think we could be good by the end of the year, but that doesn’t mean we’ll be great guns at the beginning,” Parker noted. “Remember, you don’t lose people like Rick Meagher and Mike Eruzione and not feel it.”

Ah yes, the graduated seniors from the five-player Class of 1977. There were the two defensemen, Gary Fay and John McClellan, with the former serving as a power play specialist who racked up 89 career assists with his pinpoint passing and the latter a steady and dependable four-year performer on the blue line. There were the forwards, Bob Dudley and Mike Eruzione. Dudley excelled as a forechecker and penalty killer while Eruzione, who a little over two years later would become a household name around the country with his on-ice performance in a small town in upstate New York, would graduate as one of just five BU players to surpass 200 career points (he finished with 208) while also being recognized annually as the top defensive forward in New England. Then there was center Rick Meagher, the younger brother of Terry Meagher, who himself had enjoyed a strong career at BU from 1973-76, and the older brother of sophomore Tony from the 1977-78 team. Those three sons of Belleville, Ontario, would provide an excellent foundation for Parker’s early BU teams.

Rick Meagher scored 90 goals and dish out 120 assists in his four brilliant seasons wearing a BU sweater, and among the terms used to describe his playing skill and game were “flashy” and “electrifying”. Just a few of the numerous career highlights that Meagher provided for BU fans was his rink-length rush for a goal as a freshman against Minnesota in the third period of the 1974 NCAA semifinals at Boston Garden; his five shorthanded goals in 1974-75, including a pair against Princeton in a span of just nine seconds; his two goals in 13 seconds against Brown in BU’s 9-2 romp in the ’76 ECAC title game; his third-period hat trick against BC in the aforementioned 8-7 victory over the Eagles in the ’77 ECAC quarterfinals, and his four assists against UNH in the ECAC championship game four days later, in what would be his final appearance as a collegian on Causeway Street.

Meagher remains the only Terrier player ever to attain All-American status as a sophomore, junior and senior. When Meagher had the puck on his stick, good results would often follow, as many an ECAC defenseman who were burned by No. 15’s exploits learned. BU’s veteran radio play-by-play man Bernie Corbett has sometimes only half-jokingly referred to Meagher as the “Roy Hobbs” of the BU program, as in “the best there ever was.” If ever there was a Mount Rushmore of former BU hockey players constructed, Meagher would likely anchor one side of the mountain while that former Little League pitcher from Connecticut who would go on to become BU’s all-time leading goal scorer (113) and only Hobey Baker winner—Chris Drury—would anchor the other side.

Eruzione and Meagher were linemates on the ice and inseparable friends off it at BU, but they almost never had the chance to become college hockey teammates. Meagher had originally intended to attend Clarkson, but when a viable physical education program was not to be had in Potsdam, he made his way, with some urging from older brother Terry, to Beantown. Eruzione, who had every intention of attending Merrimack, was spotted by Parker in a summer league game in Billerica and was talked into giving Division I hockey a shot by his future coach. Both players went on to be named to the ECAC All-Decade Team of the 1970s, and in an NCAA Guide review of their superb careers, they were dubbed the “twin terrors of the East.”

But despite all the success that Meagher and Eruzione enjoyed as Terriers, playing on teams that had a combined four-year record of 96-29-1, winning games in the NCAA Tournament proved elusive. Although talent-laden BU squads were seemingly unbeatable in the ECAC playoffs every March, they were disappointingly bounced out of the NCAA semifinals in four consecutive years—by Minnesota 5-4 in 1974, by Michigan Tech 9-5 in ’75, by Minnesota again 4-2 in ’76, and by Michigan 6-4 in ’77.

Looking to add pieces to the team that would help find a formula for success in the NCAAs and replacing those five invaluable seniors that departed campus in May of 1977 were on Parker’s mind when he hit the recruiting trail for the freshman class that would enter BU in September. The six-member class that he brought aboard gave Parker reason to believe that the Terriers would have the chance to maintain their position as the top program in the East.

Two of the newcomers were members of Matignon’s state championship team in forward Billy Cotter and center Mark Fidler. Cotter was Matignon’s captain during his final season, one in which he scored 40 goals. Fidler scored 96 points as a senior, leading all high school scorers in the Bay State. He was also the younger brother of Mike Fidler, who in two impact seasons as a Terrier netted 46 goals before making the jump right to the NHL with the Cleveland Barons. Mark Fidler was looking to have the same impact on the BU program that his older brother had, and as it turned out, he wouldn’t disappoint. Rounding out the strong freshman class were centers Todd Johnson and Paul Miller, the younger brother of former UNH star (and future Bruin) Bob Miller, rough-and-tumble forward Darryl MacLeod and defenseman Tim Kimball.

“It’s as good a recruiting year as we’ve had,” said Parker of his rookies. “Not only is there quantity but also quality.”

So as the 24-man BU squad went through its preseason workouts in search of an unprecedented fifth consecutive league title, it did so with a huge target on its back, the result of having won 12 straight ECAC postseason games. The only thing missing from Parker’s impressive coaching resume in his first four seasons behind the bench was a victory in the NCAAs. But long before the national tournament would came into focus, the 1977-78 Terriers would have to fend off the other 16 ECAC schools hell-bent on payback for having been on the losing side of the scoreboard against BU so many times over the previous four winters.

“There’s going to be a lot of pressure on us this year,” Parker stated in the preseason. “After all, everyone is going to want to knock us off. But that’s nothing new to these kids. They’re all used to it by now.”

BU, which had opened the 1976-77 campaign in shocking fashion by dropping its first five games after allowing 30 goals—the Terriers went on to win 22 of the final 27 games en route to another NCAA berth—would offer no repeat of that performance a year later. The Terriers hosted Merrimack, the eventual Division II national champion in ’78, to open the season on November 22 and cruised to a 13-4 win, behind Silk’s four goals and four assists each from Lamby and Boileau. Silk was simply picking up where he had left off as an outstanding freshman in 1976-77, when he lit the lamp 35 times to become the most prolific single-season goal scorer at BU since sophomore Paul O’Neil also netted 35 goals in 1972-73.

By the time the first semester came to a close, BU was off to a 5-0 start and was in the early stages of what would eventually become the longest winning streak in school annals. The fourth of those five wins came at Brown Arena, 6-5 over UNH, in a rematch of the ’77 ECAC championship game. Silk contributed a pair of goals, Lamby had three assists and Craig turned aside 37 shots by the Wildcats.

After Christmas BU headed on an extended road swing, with six of its next seven games on the road. The first two games were in East Lansing, against Michigan State, and the Terriers outlasted the Spartans by 7-5 and 6-3 scores, with Silk picking up four goals and four assists for the series. The last three games of the trip included stops at traditionally tough ECAC rinks in Durham, Canton and Potsdam. The Terriers were up to the task as they defeated UNH 6-4, with Meagher picking up a hat trick and Bethel collecting four assists, and then swept North Country foes St. Lawrence (8-3, behind Fidler’s first career hat trick and a trio of assists each from O’Callahan and Lamby) and Clarkson (7-4, with Fidler and Lamby notching hat tricks). Durocher had a combined 64 saves against the Wildcats and Golden Knights while Craig stopped 32 shots by the Larries.

“I really feel that the first time I saw that we could be a good team was at New Hampshire,” Parker said of BU’s road success. “Those two back-to-back victories up north also showed me a lot.”

The first meeting of the season with Boston College came on January 21, and the Terriers doubled up the Eagles at WBA, 6-3, with Fidler staying hot with a pair of goals and O’Callahan dishing off four assists. Four days later BU embarked on another four-game road trip, with the first matchup at the Houston Field House against RPI. In a wild shootout the Terriers escaped with an 8-7 win, with Craig making a season-high 42 saves and Meagher accounting for five points, with three coming via a hat trick. BU’s road record improved to 11-0 (and 19-0 overall) with a 4-2 win at Providence in a Beanpot tune-up game on February 4, one which the Terriers allowed just 19 shots on goal, with Durocher stopping 17 of them.

Two days later the Terriers headed to the Garden for an opening round Beanpot matchup with BC. Parker’s teams had lost three of the last four Beanpot finals, so there was certainly no lack of incentive for the Terriers when they stepped onto the ice to collide with their bitter rivals from up Commonwealth Avenue. While the game was being played inside the Garden, high winds and heavy snow had been pounding Boston for a several hours, in a gathering New England blizzard for the ages. Snow fell on the Boston area for over 30 hours, resulting in over 27 inches of accumulation, crippling all modes of transportation. The entire state of Massachusetts was shuttered for four days—and in a humorous tale recounted by former BU student Todd Brachman, by day four after the snowfall ended, campus hangout T. Anthony’s only had anchovy subs left on the takeout menu—and of the 11,000-plus college hockey fans who made their way into the Garden that night, nearly 500 of them were trapped on Causeway Street for the next 36 hours due to impassable roads. The tournament would wait another 23 days until the ’78 Beanpot champion was finally decided.

As for the game, BU took advantage of an injury-depleted BC defense and filled the Eagles’ cage with rubber, as 10 different Terriers scored goals in a 12-5 romp, the highest goal total ever scored by a BU team against the Eagles. Meagher and Boileau led the onslaught with two goals apiece and Lamby and O’Callahan each picked up three assists. The Eagles managed to put three pucks by Durocher in the first period and only trailed 4-3 at the intermission, but BU went on to score eight of the game’s next nine goals. BC’s highly regarded goaltender Paul Skidmore, who had helped beat BU in the Beanpot final two years earlier, departed with a groin injury in the second period, leaving backup Mike Cronin at the mercy of the Terriers for the rest of the game.

The massive snowfall led to the cancellation of a home date against RPI on February 10, and as luck would have it, BU’s next opponent on February 16 was BC at McHugh Forum. The Terriers didn’t hit for a dozen goals again, but they did reach double figures in a 10-5 win, with Miller and Silk each collecting two goals, Lamby dishing out an incredible six assists and Craig making 41 saves. That made it 21 straight wins for BU as the Terriers prepared for a Saturday trip to New Haven to face Yale at Ingalls Rink for a televised game in Boston and on several PBS outlets in the East.

Unfortunately for Parker and his club, they left their sharp focus and game back in Boston, and a sub.-500 Yale team, urged on by the home crowd, exploded on offense against Durocher and the Terrier backliners, jumping out to an early lead and hanging on against a late BU rally for a 7-5 victory, bringing the Terriers’ unbeaten season to a crashing halt.

Having finally suffered its first defeat in almost three months, BU got back on the winning track by registering road wins over Northeastern (6-4 at Matthews Arena, behind Hetnik’s second two-goal game of the season) and Colgate (6-5 in overtime at Starr Rink, with Boileau netting the game winner in the extra session).

March 1 rolled around and so to did the Beanpot final against Harvard. The Crimson, who had topped BU 4-3 in the ’77 Beanpot final, were no match for the Terriers this time around, with Mickey Mullen’s—a scratch in 12 of the team’s first 15 games—first career hat trick and a goal and two assists from tournament MVP O’Callahan helping BU whip the boys from across the Charles, 7-1. Lamby (with two) and LeBlond accounted for the other goals while Miller had three assists and Craig made 27 saves. Harvard’s frustration bubbled over late in the game when Lamby and George Hughes dropped the gloves and went at it. Other brawls also broke out before the final horn sounded with a total of five players earning ejections.

“Hey,” Harvard coach Bill Cleary told the Boston Globe, in a game story filed by Peter Gammons, “all that should be said is that they’re [BU] too good. I’d like to forget the fight and have people remember one thing—how good BU is. They beat us to the puck all night. From beginning to end they were flying. That’s all I can say.”

The Terriers wrapped up their enviable 25-1 regular season with a 6-5 triumph over Vermont at WBA, with Melanson and Johnson, who both lit the lamp, sharing the spotlight with LeBlond, who had his only two-goal effort of the season, helping turn back the Catamounts. Durocher’s 28 stops proved to be enough for the winning margin.

Although BU ruled the ECAC during the regular season, the postseason—with every team’s fortunes returning to square one—was now set to begin. First up for the Terriers was a March 7 meeting at WBA against eighth-seeded New Hampshire. BU had swept the season series with the Wildcats, but the cumulative score was just 12-9. This would prove to be another nail-biter, but BU met the challenge and kept its season moving forward by avoiding the upset with a 6-5 overtime victory, as Craig turned back 33 shots by the Wildcats, Meagher pitched in with a pair of goals and an assist and Boileau potted his second game-winner in OT in a space of 10 days. The Terriers were headed back to the Garden for a chance at an unprecedented fifth consecutive ECAC title.

BU’s opponent in the semifinals was seventh-seeded Providence, a team the Terriers had beaten twice during the regular season by identical 4-2 scores. The Friars, just 12-9-2 in ECAC play, had advanced to the Garden by posting an improbable 8-5 upset win over second-seeded Cornell at Lynah Rink. The other semifinal had sixth-seeded BC meeting Brown, the No. 4 seed.

The Terriers had their hands full with UNH in the quarterfinals, and the Friars would prove to be a tough opponent as well, ultimately delivering a final result that would send shockwaves throughout the ECAC. Coach Lou Lamoriello’s team jumped out to an early advantage and then put the defensive clamps on BU’s vaunted attack, behind the strong work of goaltender Bill Milner. The Friars put five pucks past Durocher among their 23 shots while the Terriers could only solve Milner once all night. It all added up to a 5-1 triumph for the red-hot Friars, who had battled through injuries during the regular season and had marked their return to health by knocking off the ECAC’s top two seeds.

For BU, the loss was a devastating blow. The Terriers had held down the No.1 spot in the polls for a good chunk of the season and had not suffered defeat until the third week of February, but they would be absent from their customary position of playing for the ECAC crown on Saturday night. If the Friars continued on their postseason roll and defeated BC in the championship game, the plug on BU’s season, once the envy of every team in the East, could have potentially been pulled.

The Terriers’ fading hopes of staying alive—that phrase that the brothers Gibb popularized—for an NCAA berth came down to a consolation match with sixth-seeded Brown and possible intervention by an NCAA selection committee. Making the situation even more difficult was the fact that BU would have to take on Brown without the guidance of Parker on the bench, with the coach having to miss the game while attending to a serious family matter. That left the Terriers in the hands of assistant coach Don “Toot” Cahoon, who knew a thing or two about playing in big games, having been a member of BU’s national championship teams in 1971 and ’72.

The 1970-71 BU squad that Cahoon, who now runs the program at UMass, scored 24 goals for had faced a similar predicament. After winning the ECAC regular-season title with an 18-1-1 record, the Terriers fell to fourth-seeded Harvard 4-2 in the ECAC semifinals. Second-seeded Clarkson dispatched Cornell 4-1 in the other semifinal. BU’s season was in do-or-die mode when it faced the Big Red in the consolation game, but the Terriers came through with a 6-5 win, with two goals apiece from John Danby and Steve Stirling. Things looked a little ominous when starting goalie Dan Brady went down with an injury late in the second period, but Tim Regan came off the bench to stop each of the 16 shots that Cornell threw at the net.

When Harvard downed Clarkson 7-4 in the championship game, BU had the break it was looking for and the tournament selection committee opted to have BU join Harvard as the East representative in Syracuse, in part because of the Terriers’ regular-season record, and also because of a 4-1 win over the Golden Knights at Boston Arena on February 5. The Terriers made that decision look like a wise choice by defeating Denver and Minnesota (both by 4-2 margins) at the War Memorial Auditorium to secure the program’s first NCAA title.

So Cahoon had been through the redemption scenario as a player, and now he would have to start the Terriers on a similar journey while filling in for Parker in a must-win game. BU left no doubt it had some unfinished business left in pursuit of its 27th win, and Fidler’s hat trick and three assists each from Bethel, Silk and O’Callahan led to an offensive explosion that buried Brown, 8-4. Craig was also kept fairly busy in the cage, finishing with 34 saves. All the Terriers, with their .931 winning percentage, could do now was sit back and wait.

The first domino fell in the ECAC championship game when BC defeated Providence by a 4-2 score. Next came a marathon telephone conference call among the members of the NCAA Eastern Advisory Committee (consisting of Harvard’s Cleary, UNH’s Charlie Holt, Yale’s Tim Taylor, Clarkson’s Jerry York and Brown’s Bob Seiple), and consideration was given to BU’s overall record and its season sweep of Providence. It was determined by the committee that an NCAA qualifying game would be played to see which school would join BC in the Final Four field. Providence was slated to host the game at Schneider Arena, just a short distance from the Civic Center, where the city would play host to the 1978 NCAA hockey championship.

Nine days after they had seen their dream season nearly evaporate with an ill-timed playoff loss, the Terriers made the most of their second chance. Lamby lit the lamp twice and Fidler and Bethel each chipped in with a goal and an assist as BU never let up against the Friars and registered a clutch 5-3 victory. The Terriers took control of the game with three second-period goals and Craig, making consecutive starts for the first time all season, stopped 32 of 35 shots, including a penalty shot by Steve Evangelista with the Friars trailing 3-1. Four days later, BU would return to the Ocean State to face defending national champion Wisconsin in the NCAA semifinals.

Badger Bob Johnson and his team arrived in Providence with a 28-10-3 record, having posted WCHA playoff series wins over Minnesota Duluth and Michigan Tech. Wisconsin, which had defeated UNH and Michigan to take home the ’77 NCAA crown, boasted a pair of All-Americans in center Mike Eaves (58 assists and a team-high 89 points) and goalie Julian Baretta (the Most Outstanding Player of the ’77 NCAAs). Sophomore center Mark Johnson, the son of the coach and a future All-American and U.S. Olympian, would finish the season leading UW with 48 goals. Joining the team at the Civic Center was an enthusiastic throng of 3,500 red-clad Badger fans and the school’s powerful 70-piece band. During some downtime between games athletic director Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch was said to have gone to a local tavern, Players Corner Pub, slapped $500 on the bar and instructed the bartenders to “give a drink to any fan wearing Wisconsin red.”

WCHA teams had ended BU’s NCAA title aspirations in 1974, ’75 and ’76, so the Terriers were anxious to make amends in Providence. Six years earlier, BU coach Jack Kelley had led the Terriers to a 4-1 win over the Badgers in the NCAA semifinals at Boston Garden, en route to BU’s second consecutive national championship.

The Badgers owned the better of the play in the early going and struck first when Johnson ripped the puck by Craig—Parker had decided to eschew his season-long goalie rotation in favor of the hot hand in the net—on a power play at the 7:32 mark of the opening period. Just under four minutes later the Terriers got the equalizer when Silk picked up the puck out of a scrum in front of the net and shot it past Baretta.

In the second period the Terriers took a 2-1 lead when O’Callahan started a 3-on-2 breakout. The puck eventually ended up on Silk’s stick and he put a nifty goal-mouth pass on Bethel’s tape, leading to an easy tip-in goal. BU got a big break when Baretta, trying to steer a centering pass from Hetnik away from the crease, mistakenly knocked the puck into his own net to put the Badgers in a two-goal hole. Eaves showed off his All-American form at 12:37 on the penalty kill when he rode O’Neill into the boards, gained possession of the puck and then skated in on Craig and pushed a backhander past the BU goalie to tighten up the game.

Clinging to a one-goal advantage, BU went on the power play at the 5:43 mark of the final period. It took the Terriers only 27 seconds to turn on the red light as Silk hit Fidler in full flight down the left boards, with Fidler then opting for his favorite shot and firing a 25-foot slapper past the glove of Baretta to make it a 4-2 game. The trio of O’Callahan, Bethel and Silk finished off the defending national champs for good 36 seconds later when Silk hit the twine for the second time, finishing off a 3-on-2 break. Craig stopped all seven UW shots in the third period and finished with 22 saves for the game.

“All season long the secret to our success has been our quickness,” Johnson told the Providence Journal. “We weren’t quick tonight and I can only believe that was because BU was quicker.”

BU’s skating and tireless effort for three periods was the difference maker, according to Parker.

“We figured we were underdogs coming in. We also knew we had to skate hard and avoid running around to win,” he told the Journal. “We beat them to the puck most of the night. It sure is going to be nice playing Saturday night and not Saturday afternoon.”

The next night, BC eliminated Bowling Green with a 6-2 victory, transforming the NCAA championship game into yet another chapter in the Commonwealth Avenue skirmish between the Terriers and the Eagles. It would mark the first all-East final since BU and Cornell met for all the marbles in 1972.

“Put it this way,” BC forward Bill Army told the media, “Boston College and Boston University is a war on the ice and a rivalry off the ice. We’re playing for the honor of Boston.”

Craig didn’t have a problem stating what was at stake, either.

“You know what it is,” he told the Journal. “Our uniforms have Boston written across them and their uniforms have Boston on them. Both of us represent the city. But I want it to be this way—when hockey fans think of Boston, I want them to think of Boston University.”

A crowd of over 11,000, the largest ever to watch a hockey game at the time in the state of Rhode Island, packed into the Civic Center to watch BU and BC go at it for the fourth time during the 1977-78 campaign, with the Terriers having won the previous three meetings by a combined margin of 28-13.

It didn’t take BU very long to put a stamp on the title matchup as Lamby fired a pass to Fidler on the left side, who then skated in and whipped a 25-foot laser past Skidmore for a 1-zip lead just 38 seconds into the game. The Eagles evened the score on the power play at the 11-minute mark when the always-dangerous Joe Mullen notched his 34th goal of the season by tipping a slap shot from defenseman Joe Augustine past Craig. Just 2:26 later the Eagles grabbed the lead after Bobby Hehir knocked a 10-footer into the empty BU cage after Craig and Lamby got crossed up and lost control of the puck. Ever the quipster, O’Callahan pointed out in Sports Illustrated, “That one was for the point spread.”

Craig admitted the second BC goal was his miscue.

“That was my fault all the way,” he told the Daily Free Press. “The puck was coming toward me and Dick was trying to get it. I came out to try and clear it. We got confused and we both missed the puck.”

The Terriers knotted the score on the power play with just over five minutes left in the period when Silk beat Skidmore off a crisp pass from O’Callahan, giving the Terrier defenseman his sixth assist of the tournament, tying the NCAA mark that BU’s Bill Robbins had set three years earlier. It was Silk’s ninth goal in NCAA postseason play in just five games. A short-handed goal put BU back on top later in the period as Lamby picked off a BC pass and then sent a backhander ahead to Meagher, who was breaking down the left side. Meagher pulled the trigger and hit the net from 15 feet out, closing out the five-goal first period.

Meagher would strike again for the only goal of the second period. Boileau made a rush toward the net on a 2-on-1 break and got Skidmore to drop to the ice with a move. But instead of trying to roof the puck over the BC goaltender, he skated around the net and fed Meagher with a perfect pass in the slot. Meagher lit the lamp to give the Terriers a 4-2 advantage.

The explosive Fidler accounted for his second goal of the night just over a minute into the final session. A few quick passes by Lamby and Silk opened up a breakaway for him, and Fidler blasted a 15-footer by Skidmore to pad BU’s lead to three goals. BC tightened things up 2:30 later when Mark Switaj stole the puck from O’Neill and sent a pass to Steve Barger, who beat Craig from 15 feet out to make it a 5-3 game.

BC’s offense produced 14 shots over the final 20 minutes, but Craig stood tall in the crease, stopping late bids from Hehir and Charlie Antetomaso as well as a backhander in close off the stick of Mullen. The BU defense and Craig (28 saves) refused to fold down the stretch, and when the final buzzer sounded, a third wooden and gold-plated NCAA championship trophy was headed to the display case on Babcock Street, as the Terriers earned their 30th win in 32 games.

“The two things that pleased me the most were that it was an all-East final and that we are the best team in the nation,” Parker said in the post-game press conference. “We thought we had something to prove after we lost the ECACs. There was not a question in our mind who was the best team in the East. Then we heard Western teams were this and Western teams were that. We really wanted to play BC to make it an all-East final.”

“All four BU defensemen did a super job,” noted BC coach Len Ceglarski in the Journal, “and so did Mark Fidler. He does things you’d never expect a freshman to do, and he just never misses the net with his shot. I don’t think there’s a more complete hockey player than Mark Fidler.”

O’Callahan, Lamby, Silk and Fidler were named to the Final Four all-tournament team while O’Callahan also took home Most Outstanding Player honors.

Durocher, who watched from the bench as Craig played the final four games of the season, was the first Terrier to take a spin around the ice with the championship trophy. O’Callahan, his fellow co-captain, let him have that moment.

“I let him carry it alone because he’s a senior and he deserves it,” O’Callahan told the Free Press. “He’s had a great career.”

The outspoken OC also expressed relief that BU’s long journey from November 22 to March 25 ended on a positive note, especially after the slip-up in the ECAC tournament.

“We were 28-2 coming into this [NCAA] tournament, but we were on the outside looking in,” he told SI. “Now we’re on the inside looking out at the rest of them.”

Of course, the quick-witted and hard-nosed D-man from Charlestown also added a classic zinger at the Heights, in reference to BU’s 12 victories over the Eagles in the last 14 meetings.

“But we shouldn’t have to beat BC for the nationals,” O’Callahan told SI writer E.M. Swift, who as a Princeton goalie earlier in the decade had once allowed 14 goals in a game against the Terriers. “Hell, we can do that anytime.”

The following year, John Powers wrote a profile of O’Callahan in the Boston Globe. It appeared in print during the 1978-79 season when OC was named an All-American, along with teammate Craig, with both later going on to wear the red, white and blue USA jersey at Lake Placid. He tried to clarify his BC statement that appeared in SI the previous April.

“Here we were playing BC for the fourth time, but it was different. This was the NCAAs. So I said, what the hell are we doing playing BC for the national championship? Then someone said, you can beat them anytime, right? And I said, well, yeah. So they [BC] got all pumped up, they’re out to kill me.”

Skidmore, who earned the all-tournament nod over Craig at the ’78 NCAAs, related what it was like playing for four seasons against BU’s powerhouse teams of the 1970s.

“Just the name BU. That has some sort of psychological effect on teams. Everyone’s uptight. BU has that edge on everyone,” he told the Globe. “They beat us, they capitalize on our mistakes. When they make their initial rush they make it count. They set up. As soon as they get a shot on net, they take it. There’s always a guy in there for a rebound. They’re always skating 100 percent.”

Fidler, the standout player among Parker’s freshmen, was an easy choice for ECAC Rookie of the Year after posting a team-leading 30 goals and 35 assists in 31 games. Among those scoring totals were a team-best 16 power play goals, three hat tricks and five game-winners, tying Meagher in that category. Cotter was just one of four Terriers (along with Meagher, LeBlond and O’Neill) to play in all 32 games. Johnson, MacLeod and Paul Miller (10 goals) also skated regular shifts for most of the season.

“Certainly the development of the freshmen helped a great deal to our success,” Parker said. “But we also got great contributions from our other classes—especially the juniors as a whole. I just don’t know where we’d have been without them.”

Leading the way among the juniors were Bethel, who enjoyed the best season of his three-year varsity career with 25 goals (including nine on the power play) and 38 assists, tops among BU’s forwards; Craig, who compiled a sparkling 16-0 mark in the net with a 3.72 goals against average and .890 save percentage and who would later earn a spot on the ECAC All-Decade of the 1970s; and O’Callahan, voted the MVP of the Beanpot, the BU team MVP and the MOP at the NCAAs. He collected a team-high 47 assists and chipped in with eight goals (on a team-high 134 shots) while also garnering first team All-ECAC honors. And there was also his steady stream of quotes that always kept the Boston media satisfied. Other contributing juniors included Hetnik, a top-notch penalty-killer who had 12 goals and 25 assists; Boileau, with four game-winners (with two coming in overtime) among his nine goals; Mullen, he of the Beanpot hat trick; Melanson, a skilled penalty killer who led the team with two short-handers; and O’Neill, a reliable defender who also picked up 15 assists.

The sophomore trio of Silk, Meagher and LeBlond also pulled their fair share of the load, with Silk following up his standout freshman campaign with 27 goals (nine on the power play) and 31 assists; Meagher excelling as a penalty killer while adding 17 goals (with a pair of hat tricks) and 21 assists; and LeBlond notching eight goals and 15 assists, all while adding to his total of consecutive games (66) played.

Obviously, the veteran leadership provided by the Terriers’ three seniors was not to be overlooked. There was Durocher, who won 14 of 16 games in goal with a 3.99 GAA after overcoming injuries suffered in a car accident during the summer of ’77, as he closed out his solid BU career with a 47-13-1 mark; Lamby, the team’s highest-scoring defenseman and a key cog on the power play with 15 goals and 44 assists; and Marden, who contributed totals of 10 goals and 11 assists.

As a team the Terriers, who were a perfect 10-0 in one-goal games, outscored their opponents 199-127, including by a comfortable margin of 81-41 in the third period, when Parker’s team best exerted its will on the opposition. Although BU was outscored 7-3 in short-handed goals, the Terriers netted 51 goals in 163 power play opportunities while holding opponents to 34 goals in 154 chances.

For guiding BU to a one-loss regular season that culminated with a national title, Parker won the Spencer Penrose Award as the NCAA Coach of the Year, an award he also won following the 1974-75 campaign after leading the Terriers to a 26-5-1 mark.

“After failing the East four years in a row [in the NCAAs], I don’t know if they would have sent us again if we had won the ECACs,” joked Parker in the NCAA Guide. “It was a strange situation for us. The loss to Providence really shook us up because everything had been going our way. But the fact that we lost in the ECACs and bounced back with a bigger championship made it much more rewarding.

“It was very satisfying to win the NCAAs, especially after those frustrating losses in the first round the last four years.”

Five members of the 1977-78 team (Bethel, Craig, O’Callahan, Lamby and Silk) all advanced to play in the NHL for varying lengths of time at the conclusion of their collegiate careers.

Silk, who has gone on to a successful career in the financial field, was the featured guest speaker at the annual Beanpot luncheon in 1993. He spoke of what it was like to grow up in Scituate and go to Beanpot games as a kid, then later get the chance to skate on Garden ice and play in the tournament for the Terriers. But he also spoke of the bond that the 1977-78 Terriers had as teammates.

“One of the things that was special about the ’78 team is that it didn’t matter what we did away from the rink,” said Silk, a member of ECAC and NCAA title teams as a Terrier, as well as being part of 1980’s Miracle on Ice. “When we came to the rink and played in that game, we were family. We were all brothers. We had something special.”

A Band of Brothers in Scarlet and White—with the recognizable Terrier head adorning their chests—who delivered the school’s third NCAA hockey title of the 1970s, putting the finishing touches on a dominant decade for the Boston University hockey program.

3 comments:

p1995 said...

wow, thank you for such a thorough and thoughtful recap of a magical season. what a treat to read

also, i don't know if OC said it or not, but i am sure glad that zinger was expressed

Knif said...

As a junior at BU during the '78 season I thoroughly enjoyed your explicit and illuminating recap. I attended every game in the East that season, and was one of the 500 (was it really that many?) who spent the night in the Garden during that monstrous storm. I recall standing in the rafters of the Garden with disbelief fully anticipating the "come back that never happened" against Providence in the ECAC semis and I remember fondly that NCAA final games against Wisconsin and BC.

A great season; thank you for bringing it all back to life and may we be fortunate enough to recount to '09 NCAA Championship 31years from now!!

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