Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Drive For Five Was Realized

by mh82
“That wasn’t a hockey game out there tonight.
That was something different.”
Coach Jack Parker, following BU’s 8-7 loss to Northern Michigan
in triple overtime in the 1991 NCAA final.

Not even the sight of players in white jerseys with scarlet trim gathering in a euphoric mass against the glass was convincing enough. At least not right away. Had it all really played out in such a dramatic manner, or was this just pushing the bounds of reality?

The mood swing in the building and plot twist on the ice were almost too much to comprehend. Just over a week has passed and yet it’s still hard to believe the sudden turn of events that unfolded on the ice at the Verizon Center on a wild Saturday night in Washington. Even the victors admitted as such over three days later.

Less than an hour before the game’s conclusion, I had sat in front of the TV feeling a sense of disappointment for the players and coaches, resigned to the fact that after carefully carving out a season's worth of accolades (with accompanying trophies as proof) by answering the bell with big win after big win, perhaps the final step to the peak of the NCAA hockey mountain just wasn’t meant to be for this 2008-09 BU hockey team, one that had already tied the single-season school record of 34 victories. Was this going to add up to another frustrating NCAA Championship Game loss, the school’s fourth since 1991?

The worthy opponent in red jerseys, Miami University, a team that had given eventual NCAA champion Boston College all it could handle in the 2008 tournament before falling in overtime to the Eagles, had been every bit as tough as anticipated. The RedHawks were playing physically (seeing BU’s Colin Wilson knocked on his back was not a typical sight), with determination, and with a thorough focus on taking care of business in their own zone, and it was looking highly unlikely that Miami was going to let a two-goal lead slip slide away – especially with the school's first national championship in any sport just within reach.

All it was going to take to drive the final stake in BU's otherwise exemplary season was sending the puck into an empty BU net, helping the RedHawks atone for coming up empty in seven power play attempts against the Terriers’ persistent penalty kill.

But despite the offensive jump that Miami had shown, and the constant defensive pressure and rattling body checks the RedHawks had delivered, they weren’t able to put the game far enough out of reach. They maintained a 3-1 lead as the final 90 seconds of the championship game ticked away, but the door was left ever-so-slightly ajar, instead of being slammed shut.

That's when this gritty group of top-ranked Terriers, as they had been doing all through their run through the 2009 postseason, reached deep and made one last push, creating an improbable Alcoa Fantastic Finish of their own while earning a place in NCAA Frozen Four lore. It was an ending that would leave the RedHawks and their supporters numb and BU fans in the Verizon Center and those gathered around TV sets in a state fluctuating somewhere between shock and outright elation, all while breathing in that sweet smell of burning timber down by the water. There are memorable rallies, and there are memorable rallies, but this one was barely on the radar before it suddenly began to take shape.

The first domino fell when BU drew to within 3-2 just inside the final minute. With six skaters on the ice and the Terrier cage wide open, Nick Bonino’s shot attempt from the side of the net was denied. Just another routine save and another step closer to an NCAA crown for the hungry RedHawks, right? Not exactly. Bonino had the presence of mind to follow up his shot with a heady play, stealing the puck away from Miami defenseman Cameron Schilling, who had corralled the rebound and was preparing to clear the puck out of harm’s way.

Instead of looking to fire away again, however, Bonino pushed the puck ahead to brawny teammate Zach Cohen – whose presence on the ice on the Terriers’ extra-attacker unit was a rare sight – stationed at the left side of the crease. Cohen’s quick backhander looked as though he was pitching hay, but the extra mustard he put on the shot caused the puck to carom off the top of Miami goalie Cody Reichard’s right pad, under and through his right arm and into the net. It was a shot that produced such an unexpected trajectory that even Willie Mosconi would've been impressed. The goal pumped some much-needed life into the Terriers, both on the ice and the bench, along with their followers in the stands. It also allowed hope to enter into the equation for Coach Jack Parker’s club, something that had been slowly fading as the game clock wound toward zero.

The RedHawks could still have ended this whole drama. That empty net was still there. Just one good defensive play, a turnover followed by the flick of the wrist, and it would all be over. Just like North Dakota’s Adam Calder had done with 13 seconds left in the 1997 NCAA title game in Milwaukee, securing the Fighting Sioux’s 6-4 win over the Terriers that snuffed out a BU rally in the final minute.

Not so for Miami.

Dogged BU soon regained possession after the faceoff, goalie Kieran Millan once again headed for the bench, and play resumed in the Miami zone. That’s when veteran smarts took over, with playmaker Chris Higgins opting to pass the puck not out to the point, but instead threading it onto the stick of walk-on turned Hobey Baker winner Matt Gilroy in the slot. Higgins made the right decision; the poised senior defenseman was not the guy Miami wanted to see with the puck. Gilroy drove left around a defender looking for a possible shot, but he still had three bodies (including Jason Lawrence entangled with a defenseman near the left post) and the goalie in front of him, with the scoreboard clock showing less than 20 seconds left in BU’s season.

Given the gravity of the moment and the desperation of the clock situation, it would've been understandable for Gilroy to shoot the puck on net, hoping to somehow sneak it into the net through all the traffic, or perhaps for a deflection off the goalie, and amidst all the chaos in front of the net caused by the loose puck, a rebound through the scrum and the tying goal.

But All-Americans and Hobey Baker winners don't think that way. Shooting the puck and risking the loss of possession and the game wasn’t an option for Gilroy, not with a national championship hanging in the balance. What he wanted was to make the best play, preferably by getting the puck to an open shooter. When he spotted Bonino out of the corner of his eye, open and positioned perfectly inside the right circle, he calmly shifted the puck to his backhand and passed it across the slot.

Knowing he had little time to pull the trigger at the open net, Bonino one-timed a shot that would’ve made former Terrier Mark Fidler proud, sending the puck flying by a lunging Miami defenseman and just past Reichard’s outstretched glove (this time there would be no Bill Pye to rob a streaking Tony Amonte, as had been the case in the waning seconds of the third period of BU’s 8-7 triple-overtime loss to Northern Michigan in the 1991 NCAA title match) and securely into the twine to knot the score at 3-3 with 17 seconds left. The red light sent BU fans in the building into pandemonium and induced more than a few leaps off couches by alumni watching on the tube. It was a play that would’ve likely invited a drawn out “ohhhh myyyyy” from former NBC sportscaster Dick Enberg.

"I just got the puck and out of the corner of my eye I saw Nick sitting wide open. You put the puck on Nicky's stick, and he's going to put it away,” said Gilroy of his nifty pass. “It went in and we went into overtime. Once we had that, I think the whole bench and the whole team knew it [the championship] was ours."

When Parker was asked what he was thinking when Bonino’s shot lit the lamp, he mentioned former Red Sox player Bernie Carbo. That was in reference to the two-out, pinch-hit three-run home run that Carbo hit into the center field bleachers at Fenway Park against Cincinnati in the bottom of the eighth inning of the classic Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, a game the Sox eventually won 7-6 on Carlton Fisk’s home run in the 12th inning.

With BU players celebrating on the bench and sensing a comeback victory had essentially moved back into the picture, it was a good time to cue up the 1980s Mike and The Mechanics song “All I Need is a Miracle” which is just what the Terriers had produced in a game-saving space of 42 seconds.

Stunned by the two-goal rally but determined to finish the job, Miami had one last rush up ice that resulted in a Trent Vogelhuber – who had scored to put Miami up 3-1 at 15:52 of the third period on a laser inside the post, a goal that at the time appeared to be the potential game-clincher for the RedHawks – shot off BU goalie Kieran Millan’s chest, with the puck dangerously dropping loose to his left. Another Miami player swooped in for the rebound and took a swipe at the puck that barely missed before Millan was finally able to cover it up with his glove, just 1.1 second (and yet another heart palpitation for BU fans) from end of regulation.

When the horn sounded it was time to exhale, regroup and head to overtime for the 13th time in NCAA title game history. An overtime (or two, or three) that would determine if a stunned Miami team could still capture its first Division I title or if the resurgent Terriers could cap off a record-breaking season by completing the D.C. Miracle.

Playing it safe and waiting for a mistake was but a myth for both teams in overtime; both were out to win the championship trophy at all costs.

Colin Wilson, who had scored the third period game-winner off a rebound in BU’s 5-4 comeback win over Vermont in an NCAA Semifinal two nights before, fought through a check along the boards and sent a hard wrister on net, only to be stopped by Reichard. John McCarthy, finishing off a trademark tic-tac-toe passing exchange, was also foiled in close by Reichard.

At the other end, Gilroy made one of the game’s clutch defensive plays, sliding along the ice and extending his stick to break up a shot attempt in the slot by the dangerous Carter Camper. A short time later, Tom Wingels, who had given Miami a 2-1 lead in the third period by knocking in a loose rebound, took a shot in the slot that bounded off Millan’s chest and off to the side of the net. Before a Miami player could cause any further havoc BU defenseman Brian Strait promptly gained possession and cleared the puck out of the zone.

The final rush of the night found defenseman Colby Cohen starting out from behind the BU net and heading up ice. Cohen shot the puck deep into the Miami zone from center ice where the Terriers’ all-freshman line was in pursuit. Corey Trivino tied up a Miami player at the end boards to the left of the net, and the puck then skidded over to Chris Connolly, who had put the Terriers on the board way back in the first period by hustling for a goalmouth tap-in.

Connolly turned and passed the puck back to mouthguard-chomping defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, positioned on the left side of the blue line. Shattenkirk moved to his right and faked a shot to draw the attention of converging Miami defenders. After faking the shot he continued moving to his right along the blue line, passing by defensive partner and fellow Colorado Avalanche draft pick Cohen. With Miami players in pursuit Shattenkirk took a quick glance over his shoulder and sent a backhand pass over to Cohen. That misdirection opened up some room as Cohen skated in the direction of the left circle. Earlier in the game Cohen had cleanly beaten Reichard with one of his trademark booming slap shots, but the puck didn’t find the net and instead hit iron.

With some open space in the circle Cohen again drew back for a slapper, looking to put a shot on net while forward Vinny Saponari was busy tussling with a defenseman in front of Reichard. As Reichard dropped down and braced himself to control a hard shot from Cohen, Miami’s heart-and-soul defenseman, Kevin Roeder, hit the ice, looking to block the shot.

The puck made contact with Roeder’s shin guard, but instead of hitting flush and deflecting back toward Cohen, or better yet, to the boards, it hit on an angle and skipped off in flight on an end-over-end arc. Reichard kept waiting and looking for the shot that never arrived, as the puck climbed up and over his head and out of sight – calling to mind those Elton John lyrics “When are you gonna come down? When are you going to land?” – before dropping over his left shoulder and into the net.

The goal judge flicked the switch, the BU bench emptied to mob Cohen, Parker and his assistants Mike Bavis and David Quinn embraced, Terrier fans roared and a crestfallen Reichard slumped in his crease, a helpless bystander who had lost sight of the puck on the game’s final play. Suddenly and unexpectedly (as is often the case in overtime) it was all over at 11:47 of the extra session. BU had completed a 4-3 return-from-the-brink victory, its first win of the season in OT, that secured the school’s fifth national championship. Unlike previous NCAA Tournament overtime losses in 1991 against Northern Michigan, 1998 against UNH and 2000 against St. Lawrence, the sticks and helmets scattered around the ice following the postgame celebration this time belonged to the Terriers, with Cohen’s shot igniting the flotilla.

“I saw a guy coming at me, and I thought about trying to fake and go around him, but the ice was already a little chewed up at that point,” Cohen said of his game winner. “I closed my eyes and shot it and here we are right now. I was just trying to shoot it towards the net. Take a slap shot and get it to the net and hope for a rebound. But I got lucky, I guess.”

Parker had nothing but praise for the vanquished RedHawks.

“We’ll sit back and watch this game and realize just how fortunate we were to win and how hard Miami played against us for 60 minutes,” he said. “They’re a hell of an opponent and everybody knows who they are now.”

Down through the years the Terriers have staged numerous memorable comebacks, both in the regular season (including against Michigan State at Walter Brown Arena in 1989 and on the road at Maine in 1993) and in the playoffs (against Clarkson in the ECAC semifinals in 1977 and against Northern Michigan in the NCAAs in 1991), but never before had a BU team staged such a memorable rally against such huge odds in the final 59 seconds.

Trying to determine the biggest win in the history of a tradition-rich program is all but impossible, but there certainly has never been a more courageous victory – even edging ahead of the one posted by underdog BU against a loaded Michigan team in the 1997 NCAAs – posted by the Terriers with more at stake than the one in the 2009 NCAA Championship Game.

No BU squad has ever walked the tight rope and responded to postseason pressure more effectively than this group did over the final month of must-win games, with five of the last six decided by a single goal:

3-2 over Boston College in the Hockey East Semifinals
1-0 over Lowell in the Hockey East Championship Game
2-1 over New Hampshire in the Northeast Regional Final
5-4 over Vermont in the NCAA Semifinals
4-3 over Miami in the NCAA Championship Game.

The win over the RedHawks pushed the Terriers into an elite group of schools, in terms of winning NCAA titles, with BU and Minnesota now tied with five championships apiece, trailing Wisconsin with six, North Dakota and Denver with seven, and Michigan with nine. No other Eastern school can match BU’s 38 NCAA Tournament game wins or the program’s 31 NCAA Tournament berths.

Was this the best Terrier team ever to lace up the skates? As radio play-by-play man Bernie Corbett astutely pointed out, if you match up the resumes of BU’s five NCAA championship squads, and mark down all their accomplishments from the beginning of the season to the end, the 2008-09 club moves to the front of the line. Every single piece of hardware the Terriers played for this season (Icebreaker Invitational, Denver Cup, Beanpot Tournament, Hockey East regular-season, Hockey East championship, NCAA Northeast Regional and the NCAA championship) they won, en route to becoming the first BU team ever to collect 35 wins. If you throw in Matt Gilroy’s Hobey Baker Award, Jack Parker’s Spencer Penrose Award and Kieran Millan’s National Rookie of the Year Award, recognition for this team was bursting at the seams. Truthfully, it was a season the likes of which may not be seen again on Commonwealth Avenue for a while.

All four of BU’s other NCAA title teams had at least one stumble in tournament play during the course of the season. The 1971 NCAA champions were tripped up by Harvard in the ECAC semifinals; the 1972 NCAA champions (who were absolutely dominant in five postseason games, outscoring their opponents 23-5) were beaten by archrival Cornell in the Syracuse Invitational; the 1978 NCAA champions (who lost but one regular-season game) fell to Providence in the ECAC semifinals, and the 1995 NCAA champions (who outscored its three NCAA opponents 19-7) dropped an overtime decision to Maine in the Great Western Freezeout.

Wednesday afternoon’s victory rally started with a Duck Boat ride for the players in Kenmore Square and ended up with the team wading its way through an appreciative and sizable throng at Marsh Plaza before being showered with confetti. Jack Parker addressed the crowd, specifically thanking the students who had attended the Miami game for their enthusiastic support, especially when the chips were down late in the game.

He then turned his attention to his championship club.

“People keep asking me, ‘Is this the best Boston University team of all-time?’ I have to say that no other team won this many trophies and this many tournaments and had the heart-stopping trek through the Hockey East Tournament and the NCAA Tournament as this club did,” Parker noted. “They also won more games than any other BU team. I think it’s easy for me to say right now that this is the greatest team that I’ve ever coached at Boston University.”

Six seniors (Gilroy, Lawrence, Higgins, McCarthy, Brandon Yip and Steve Smolinsky) have wrapped up their careers, and Wilson, after earning All-American status as a sophomore, has signed a contract with Nashville. Others may follow, so there will certainly be holes for Parker to fill in his lineup next season. But before then, there will be some time to reflect and enjoy all that went into the D.C. Miracle.

One other important question remains for the Terriers. Who from the pages of history will provide the inspiration behind the sweat once the puck drops again next season, Magellan, da Gama or Eriksson?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

BU In The Big Apple

by mh82

(Editor's note: Written prior to the 2007 BU-Cornell game at Madison Square Garden)

NOV. 20, 2007—The hype surrounding the game has been building for months. Ticket sales have exceeded all expectations, surpassing the 17,000 mark. The final countdown to the “Red Hot Hockey” matchup at Madison Square Garden between Boston University and Cornell has been reduced to a matter of days, and come Saturday night, it will be time to drop the puck at Broadway and 33rd Street.

Although the Terriers have not played a game in New York City in more than 30 years, they do have a history of hitting the ice in Gotham for hockey matchups around the holidays. BU has played a total of eight games in Manhattan, posting a 5-2-1 mark.

Between December of 1961 and January of 1977, BU participated in three different chapters of the ECAC Holiday Festival, a tournament that had a run of 15 years and featured various groups of college teams competing at Madison Square Garden.

But to trace the actual origin of BU playing hockey in the Big Apple, you’d have to turn back the clock 81 years, to January 27, 1926. It was on that date, according to research by BU hockey historian Sean Pickett, that the Terriers, coached by George Gaw and led by captain Roderick Ling, dropped a 5-1 decision to a team known as the St. Nicholas Hockey Club—whose roster was made up of many former Ivy League athletes—in an exhibition match at the site of the “old” Madison Square Garden, located on Eighth Avenue and 50th Street. For more than 10 years, the Eighth Avenue Garden served as the home rink to two NHL teams, the New York Americans starting in 1925-26, and the New York Rangers the following season. The Americans eventually folded as a franchise during World War II, leaving the city to the Broadway Blueshirts.

The BU-St. Nicholas matchup was the second game of a Wednesday night doubleheader, with 8,000 fans on hand at the Garden to watch the action. The Terriers were coming off a 1-0 win over Cornell, played the previous Saturday afternoon on Beebe Lake up in Ithaca. The opening game featured Yale playing against a team from the New York Athletic Club, a contest the Bulldogs won easily, 6-0. The Terriers put a starting lineup on the ice of goalie Donald Martin, defensemen Charles Viano and Ling, and a first line of center Chester Scott (who led the team with 11 points in 14 games) and forwards Ovila Gregoire (who netted a team-high 10 goals for the 7-8 BU squad) and John Lawless. The game was played in an uneven format, with the first and third periods lasting 15 minutes and the second period the full 20 minutes.

St. Nick’s opened the scoring just over four minutes into the game, but BU’s Ling tied the game late in the first period. His goal was described thusly in the next morning’s edition of the New York Times by reporter Harry Cross. “Boston tied the score on a simple shot which fooled all hands on the ice. Captain Ling took his own sweet time carrying the disc down the ice and just dribbled a shot from the side which had scarcely power enough behind it to carry it to the net. [St. Nick’s goalie] Neidinger didn’t think it would reach him and made no effort to stop it, and it limped its way in.”

In the words of Jack Parker, it was a “greasy” goal, but nonetheless, it tied the score. A St. Nick’s forward by the name of Cushman (no first names were included in the box score) scored twice in the second period and once in the third to help his team pull away from the Terriers.

Thirty-five years later and just four days before Christmas in 1961, the Terriers made their initial appearance in the ECAC Holiday Festival. It was a rather inauspicious debut for BU in the tournament, as coach Harry Cleverly’s squad was thrashed by Clarkson in the opener, 7-0. Next up was the first of three meetings with Boston College during that 1961-62 campaign, and the Terriers and Eagles skated to a 2-2 draw. Cleverly was serving in his 17th and final season of leading BU from behind the bench, before passing the coaching reins along to one of his former players, Jack Kelley.

BU made its last appearance at the Eighth Avenue Garden in the sixth annual ECAC Holiday Festival in 1966. The Terriers had an extended stay in New York, playing three games over the course of four days, from December 17-20. BU scored 24 goals en route to three consecutive victories, securing the John Reed Kilpatrick Memorial Trophy as tournament champions. Kilpatrick was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame for his playing career at Yale, and he also earned a spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame, after serving as president of the Rangers for over 25 years. In addition, he served in the U.S. Army in both World Wars.

The Terriers gave the Garden fans a glimpse of their offensive firepower in the opening game against Princeton, as Fred “Bear” Bassi pumped in five goals (he led BU with 30 that season), Maxwell “Mickey” Gray accounted for four goals and Mike Sobeski, Herb Wakabayashi and Serge Boily each chipped in with four assists in a 13-6 trouncing of the Tigers in front of a crowd of 6,548. BU scored the first eight goals of the game and never looked back, establishing the tournament record for most goals in a game. Two other players, Jim Quinn (two goals, two assists) and Peter McLachlan (one goal, three assists), reached the four-point mark.

The all-sophomore line of Wakabayashi centering Boily and Gray produced 13 points for the BU attack, and their speed, skills and cohesion on the ice would inspire a famous New York sportswriter to give their line a nickname that would last throughout their careers at BU, after he witnessed their work in person at the Garden.

“That was a pretty impressive tournament for them,” noted McLachlan. “They had a chemistry that really clicked, and they all had a whale of a season that year.”

Indeed they did as Wakabayashi led BU in scoring with 16 goals and 51 assists for 67 points; Boily was second on the team with 55 points (29 goals and 26 assists) and Gray added a successful stat line of 24 goals and 24 assists. Not too shabby for their varsity debuts.

After the Saturday night win over Princeton, the Terriers would not hit the ice again until Monday night, when they would face the University of Minnesota for just the second time; BU’s first-ever game against the Gophers was a 4-2 setback on December 20, 1963 in the Boston Christmas Holiday Festival.

On Sunday night a small group of Terriers, including the top defense pairing of Ontario cousins Brian Gilmour and Peter McLachlan, attended a taping of the Ed Sullivan Show. A regular segment of the show was when Sullivan would introduce some special guests in the audience to the TV viewers at home. Boxer Sugar Ray Robinson was well known to the audience, but there also happened to be a group of athletes from two universities in the theatre that night.

“We were to be introduced, but when it came time, Sullivan said in his unique voice, ‘And in our audience tonight, we have an outstanding team.’ ” Gilmour recalled. “All of us got ready to stand up but Ed continued, ‘The University of North Carolina basketball team.’ ” No matter. The BU players were eventually recognized and received a round of applause.

The appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show wasn’t the only chance that BU players had the chance to go on national television. Gilmour, McLachlan, Jim Quinn and a fourth player (either Bassi or defenseman Don Lumley) were chosen as contestants for the daytime game show Eye Guess, which was hosted by Bill Cullen at NBC’s Rockefeller Center studios. Contestants on Eye Guess tried to memorize and recall the location of hidden answers on a nine-box game board. The Terrier contingent didn’t fare too well, and in the words of McLachlan, “we had our clocks cleaned by a bunch of housewives who were probably regular viewers and knew what to do to win the game.”

But the BU players didn’t leave 30 Rock empty-handed.

“We received five Westclock clocks,” said Gilmour of the parting gifts from the show. “I still have one, and the other four were Christmas gifts that year. Starving college player, you know.”

Gilmour and McLachlan were a talented duo of senior defensemen, with the former earning All-American status in 1967 and the latter being selected first team All-ECAC. They were also a unique personal story. They grew up in Ontario (Gilmour in Lancaster and McLachlan in Newmarket) never knowing they were related as cousins.

“We didn’t know we were cousins until we met each other on campus for the first time,” said McLachlan. “We hadn’t met before BU.” McLachlan played in all 31 games during the 1966-67 season and had 10 goals and 25 assists while Gilmour finished third on the team in scoring with 13 goals and 41 assists.

"We spent some time together killing penalties and on the power play the first two years on varsity, but we didn’t become a regular defense pairing until our senior year,” said McLachlan. “We both favored an offensive style of play and the two of us liked to be in the other team’s zone. Sometimes we got caught up ice and Coach Kelley didn’t appreciate that.”

Playing college hockey, however, wasn’t something that McLachlan was definitely sold on. “When I was 19 I was planning on going to a Canadian college that didn’t have a hockey team. I had been playing junior hockey for several years, and had been playing competitive hockey since I was seven. Michigan and Brown showed some interest in me, but I was going to retire from playing the game at 19,” he said. “It just so happened that Jack Kelley came up to scout another player on my junior team. I must’ve had a good night because after the game he came up to me and asked if I was interested in coming down to play hockey at BU. I said, ‘sure, why not?’ It turned out to be the correct choice for me to go to BU.”

In the game against Minnesota, the Gophers struck first with a goal late in the opening period, and they were on top 1-0 at the first intermission. McLachlan’s power play goal at the 3:01 mark of the second period tied the game, but Minnesota’s Chuck Norby shot a puck past BU netminder Wayne Ryan to put the Gophers ahead 2-1 six minutes later.

BU answered with goals from defensemen Bill Hinch and Gilmour to take the lead back, but with just under five minutes left in the second period, Gary Gambucci’s goal pulled the Gophers even again. Gray, on an assist from McLachlan, gave the Terriers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish 60 seconds before the second intermission.

Playing with a 4-3 lead, BU took control of the game when Gray, a Chatham, Ontario native, lit the lamp three times in the first 11:33 of the third period, with his linemates Boily and Wakabayashi tallying assists on each of the goals. Forward Charlie Morgan made it 8-3 Terriers with 6:31 left on the clock, and the Gophers added a pair of late scores to make it a more respectable 8-5 final, as BU punched its ticket to the championship game against Clarkson, a 5-2 winner against St. Lawrence.

The Golden Knights had won eight of the previous 11 meetings against BU, including the seven-goal win over the Terriers on the same MSG ice just six years earlier. A crowd of 6,312 was on hand at the Garden to see the title matchup between the two ECAC rivals. Neither team scored in the opening period, as BU’s Ryan and Clarkson’s John Miller held the opposing offenses at bay.

Sobeski, on a nice rush up ice, put BU on the board 53 seconds into the second period after his 20-footer eluded Miller. Morgan notched his second goal in two days to put the Terriers up by two goals, but Clarkson’s Joe Demerski solved Ryan and made it a 2-1 game at the 11:39 mark. Wakabayashi, with a series of fakes in a one-on-one showdown against Miller, increased BU’s lead to 3-1 with under four minutes to play in the period.

Clarkson put pressure on Ryan in the third period, and he came up with a big save on a breakaway to maintain BU’s lead. However, Ernie Reynolds potted a goal with less than five minutes left to pull Clarkson to within 3-2, but the Terriers took care of business in their own end down the stretch and hung on for their ninth straight win (the only blemish on BU’s record had been a 4-3 overtime loss to the Eastern Olympics in a exhibition game at Boston Arena on December 10) to capture the tournament title.

Gray was named the MVP of the tournament after accounting for eight goals and an assist. Linemates Wakabayashi and Boily also did plenty of damage, finishing with one goal and seven assists apiece. It was the performance of those three Terrier sophomores that led columnist Red Smith to dub the trio the “Pinball Line” in a column he submitted to the New York World Journal Tribune.

Jack Kelley recalled his 1966-67 club and their holiday performance at Madison Square Garden. “It was the senior year of my first full recruiting class of Gilmour, McLachlan, Ryan, Bassi, Quinn and Sobeski. We also had added Jack Parker, John Cooke and Billy Riley, and our sophomore line of Wakabayashi, Boily and Gray was making a big impact, too,” he said.

“Everyone began to realize we would be a team to be reckoned with. Just before the games at MSG, our Sports Information Director, Art Dunphy, called Red Smith to tell him about an amazing trio of first-year players (sophomores at the time with no freshmen eligibility, which began in 1973-74) who passed the puck remarkably well and were having a great season.

“He convinced Smith to attend the tournament, and after seeing Herb, Serge and Mickey in action, he came up with the name “Pinball Line” because of the way they passed the puck. And the name stuck.”

BU completed the 1966-67 season as the top team in the ECAC with an unbeaten 19-0-1 record, with the tie (3-3) coming against an equally-strong Cornell team in a classic double-overtime confrontation in the championship game of the Boston Arena Christmas Tournament on December 30. But the Big Red would prove to be BU’s nemesis the rest of the season, and led by peerless work of goalie Ken Dryden, who would later earn fame and six Stanley Cup rings with the Montreal Canadiens, Cornell knocked off the Terriers 4-3 in the ECAC championship game at Boston Garden on March 11 and then 4-1 in the NCAA title game in Syracuse one week later.

The Terriers were part of the ECAC Holiday Festival field for the last time in 1977, and it also marked the grand finale of the tournament at Madison Square Garden, which was now situated at Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street after making the move from Eighth Avenue and 50th Street in 1968. The “new” Garden was located on the site of the demolished Penn Station, the giant Beaux-Arts edifice of a train station that was once used by both the Pennsylvania and Long Island Railroads and was the final destination of the famous “Broadway Limited” which ran daily from Chicago to New York.

The start of the 1976-77 season had been anything but typical for the Terriers, as the three-time defending ECAC champions dropped their first five games and arrived in New York with a less-than-stellar 3-6 record after splitting a road series at Minnesota-Duluth. Although the Terriers had been outscored 42-36 through those nine games, they were certainly not a team lacking in talent, with the likes of center Rick Meagher and forwards Mike Eruzione and Dave Silk fueling the offense and defensemen Jack O’Callahan and Dick Lamby and goalie Jim Craig bolstering the defense.

Colgate, a team that BU had beaten 13-3 at Brown Arena during the 1975-76 season, was the first opponent on Sunday, January 2. Because the Garden’s primary tenant, the Rangers, were hosting the Vancouver Canucks that evening, the Holiday Festival doubleheader got off to an early start. The Terriers and Red Raiders, who were coached by former BU player Jim Higgins, were due to face off at 11:00 am in front of a few thousand fans at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

Barry Kibsey gave Colgate a 1-0 lead at the 3:35 mark of the first period, but BU answered with a goal by Eruzione, and that’s the way it stayed through the first 20 minutes.

Coming out of the locker room for the second period, it quickly became obvious that BU had finally turned off the snooze button as the Terriers erupted for seven goals in the period against Colgate’s shell-shocked freshman goalie Drew Schaefer. Mickey Mullen started the onslaught with a goal at 1:53 and Lamby—playing in just his third game for BU after transferring from Salem State and spending the previous winter with the Olympic team—finished it off by scoring at 12:48 for his second goal of the period. Balance was the word for the Terriers as six different players scored in the period and 11 different players picked up assists.

Colgate did manage to score three times off Craig in the final period, but BU got goals off the sticks of Silk and defenseman Bill LeBlond to make the final margin 10-4, with the Terriers outshooting the Red Raiders 49-33.

“It took us a while to wake up,” Jack Parker told the New York Times. “We’re not used to starting a game at 11:00 am on a Sunday. With so few people in the stands, it sounded more like a practice session. We’re used to hearing 14,000 fans screaming in Boston Garden.”

The second game of the doubleheader featured St. Lawrence and Bowdoin, and the Skating Saints turned a 4-3 deficit after two periods into an 8-4 victory after shutting down the Polar Bears over the final 20 minutes. By the time the second game began, the attendance at the Garden had climbed to 6,548.

“BU is a good, shifty team and well disciplined,” said St. Lawrence coach Leon Abbott, the man that Parker had succeeded as BU coach seven games into the 1973-74 season. “Tomorrow night’s game should be a very tough one for us.”

Abbott’s words turned out to be very prophetic as the Terriers fired a season-high 60 shots on goal, with eight of those pucks getting past Larries goaltender Rick Wilson, leading to an 8-5 victory, as BU regained possession of the Kilpatrick Trophy as tournament champions. Eruzione, who was named the MVP, contributed two goals and two assists, and defenseman Gary Fay (one goal and two assists) and Silk (three assists) also chipped in to the BU attack. In all seven different Terriers lit the lamp and nine different BU players notched assists. Craig turned aside 22 St. Lawrence shots.

BU scored the first three goals of the second period, including two on the power play, to stretch its lead to 6-1, but St. Lawrence battled back with three straight goals to make a game of it, leading Parker to comment in the Times, “We took a couple of penalties and played sloppy defensively and let them back in.”

Fay’s power play strike with just under three minutes left in the second period built BU’s lead back up to three goals. The Terriers controlled the third period, owning a 26-5 shot advantage, and Tony Meagher’s goal helped offset a score by SLU’s Dan Walker as BU posted an 8-5 triumph.

The two victories at the Garden improved the Terriers’ record to 5-6, but Parker felt that his club still had plenty of work to do. “I told them they have to get more pumped up as a team,” he said in the New York Times. “They have talent, but they haven’t won anything yet. They don’t seem to play with any emotion.”

The BU players took Parker’s words to heart, as they won 16 of their next 21 games, with the last of those victories delivering a fourth straight ECAC crown following an exciting 8-6 win over New Hampshire at Boston Garden. That led to a fourth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament, but for the fourth consecutive year history repeated itself, and the Terriers were toppled in the semifinals, this time by Michigan, 6-4.

When the likes of present-day Terriers Peter MacArthur, Bryan Ewing and Chris Higgins hop over the boards at MSG on Saturday night against ancient bitter rival Cornell, they will be looking to extend BU’s winning streak in the City That Never Sleeps to six games.

“The idea of having a get-together with Cornell was exciting, but having it in Madison Square Garden, arguably the richest sports venue there is, just adds to the panache of the whole thing,” noted Parker. “The best part about this (Red Hot Hockey])will be the fact that the players on both teams will get to experience that type of atmosphere against a big rival in a game they should remember for a long, long time.”