Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Looking back: Five rings

People continue to speculate as to where this season's team ranks amongst the other four NCAA Title winners. Each teams commends itself for various reasons. I tend to be partial in terms of the first two title winners as I am most familiar with the dynamics of those two squads. I make no judgments, but set forth some of the key points regarding all of the teams. One interesting dynamic is that each of the five teams had quality offense, solid defense, good goaltending and the many solid workmanlike players whose efforts may not have been reflected on score sheets but were valuable throughout the season.

The 1970-71 team was our first to win it all and only the 5th Eastern team to do so in the first 24 years of final four play. The team was dominant offensively scoring 210 goals while allowing but 60 in 31 games. The power play boasted an astonishing 40.2% success rate. 9 players hit double digits in goal scoring (John Danby 28, Steve Stirling 27, Toot Cahoon 24, Bob Gryp 20, Ron Anderson 20, Bob Brown 17, Wayne Gowing 16, Steve Dolloff 15, and Ric Jordan 12). 50 point scorers included Stirling 70, Danby 64, Brown 60 and Jordan 50. Team boasted solid defense. Goalies Dan Brady and Tim Regan each put up 3 shutouts and as the team averaged 6.60 goals per game while allowing 1.91. The squad was 24-1-1 in the regular season but was upset in the semifinals of the ECAC by Harvard. Winning a hard fought consolation game over Cornell boosted the record to 26-2-1 and the selection committee picked the team to be the #2 eastern seed for the final four. The team justified the selection beating Denver and Minnesota, both by 4-2 scores, to win that first title.

The 1971-72 team was the first team to play in the Walter Brown Arena and became the first and to date only Eastern team to win back to back NCAA titles. It put up 155 goals (4.85 per game) while allowing 69 (2.16 per game). Danby and Brown each scored 50 points while Danby led 7 double digit goal scorers with 26. After losing the regular season title to Cornell in the last game of the year. It was totally dominant in the 5 games of the post season beating RPI (8-2), Harvard (3-1) and Cornell (4-1) to give BU it's first League tournament title ending many years of frustration in that tournament. The team won the NCAA in spite of losing 2 regulars (Goalie Dan Brady and defenseman Bob Murray) to injury. Tim Regan who had spent most of the season with the silver medal winning US Olympic team literally came off the bench to backstop the title pitching a shutout 4-0 over Cornell in the NCAA Championship game to win Most Outstanding Player honors. Danby had as good a post-season as anyone has had for BU, scoring 8 goals and 5 assists in 5 games, including the hat trick in the 3-1 ECAC semifinal win over Harvard and the hat trick in the 4-1 NCAA semifinal win over Wisconsin.

The 1977-78 team dominated much like the 1970-71 team but like that team was unable to get past the league semifinal tournament game losing to Providence 5-1. After winning the consolation game over Brown the team was 27-2 and the NCAA Selection committee determined that a qualifying game would be played between BU and Providence in Providence to determine the ECAC #2 team who would join tournament champion BC in the final four. BU prevailed 5-3 over PC at Schneider Arena and returned to Providence Civic Center for the NCAA where they beat defending champion Wisconsin 5-2 and BC in the title game 5-3. This team boasts the highest winning percentage of a BU team (.937) and Mark Fidler (30) led 8 goal scorers in double digits with Dave Silk (27) and John Bethel (25) joining him in the 20 goal club. Team scored 199 goals (average 6.13) while allowing 127 (average 3.92). Terriers converted 32% on the power play. Like its predecessors the team had solid goaltending with Jim Craig and Brian Durocher and had solid defensemen as well as those would could score from the blueline. 50 point scorers included Fidler (64), Bethel (63), Dick Lamby (59), Silk (58) and Jack O'Callahan (55). BU teams of the 1970's dominated the ECAC and won three NCAA crowns.

The 1994-95 team ended a 17 year drought along with 4 years of final four frustration in the 1990's when it beat Minnesota 7-3 in the semifinal and Maine 6-2 in the title game . The team also had the honor of winning the final Beanpot and final college game played in Boston Garden (HE Final) before the building was torn down to be replaced by the present building. The team was loaded in terms of scoring distributed over 4 lines. 10 players hit double digits in goals: Jacques Joubert 29, Mike Grier 29, Chris O'Sullivan 23, Shawn Bates 18, Mike Prendergast 17, Steve Thornton 17, Bob Lachance 12, Chris Drury 12, Ken Rausch 12, and Mike Sylvia 10. 50 point scorers were O'Sullivan 56, Grier 55, and Joubert 52. Team had seven solid defensemen maybe the most depth ever at that position. Team scored 224 goals (5.60 average) while allowing 117 (2.93). Tom Noble and Derek Herlofsky provided solid tandem goaltending much the same as its predecessor title teams. The team tied for the league regular season title but was seeded second in the quarterfinal round.

The 2008-2009 team, however, accomplished something that sets it apart from the others: win the league regular season title outright, win the Beanpot, win the League tournament, and win the NCAA. Like its counterparts the team was solid in all phases, had offensive defensemen, defensive defensemen, and role players who could transition seamlessly as needed. The team recorded the most wins in school history with a 35-6-4 record. The team consistently came up large when needed in the post season (putting the health of some of us older folks at risk) beating BC 3-2, Lowell 1-0 in the HE Title game. UNH 2-1 in the regional final inside the last 20 seconds, Vermont in come from behind fashion in the NCAA semifinal and, of course, the incredible win in the title game.

There are differences between the teams. For example, in 1970-71 and 1971-72 you could not check in the offensive zone. Freshmen were not eligible and we only began to play four lines in the regular season finale against Cornell and in the ECAC and NCAA tournaments. Today you have four lines and six defensemen.

I think also that the top flight players of one era could play in other eras as well because they brought superb skills to the table whether it be scoring, playmaking, defense or goaltending.All 5 teams had players beyond the acknowledged stars who complimented and filled out the squad.

It may be harder to get to the Frozen Four these days but for a long time you had to be #1 or#2 in the league tournament to make it. Teams like Vermont this year would not have made it to the NCAA after having been ousted in the quarterfinal of their league tournament.I think it's fair to say that there are more schools playing the game and thus greater distribution of talent.

I can also say that the NCAA Title and Frozen Four was not promoted in the way it is today. The Frozen Four while in the shadow of March madness nevertheless is on a National stage. It has reached a magnitude that was not there in 1971 and 1972. When we won in 1971 it was a fairly small celebration in the hotel in Syracuse. The next day we rode the bus home, went to the Dugout and Jimmy O'Keefe closed it to all but the team and we had a great time. In 1972 the security at the Sonesta herded people into their rooms at some point ending the revelry although others went to the Dugout.

The 1995 game was played at noon time and I recall the team heading back to Boston on the bus. The team was recognized by the Governor and Mayor Menino.

I have never seen a display of fan support and enthusiasm that I saw at the team hotel following the Miami game. The band, students cheering, alumni, parents and team all mingled enjoying what had just transpired. The parade was an amazing turnout and even at the banquet the lines seeking autographs stretched beyond the confines of the Sherman Union.

To the student fans who are leaving, you can always support the team whether near or far. We all go through establishing careers and having families and as such our ability to support the team may not be in the manner in which we would like. However when you reach my age (and don't rush it) and the children are grown and you have found some stability it is a great thing especially if you live close by and are able to take advantage of the chance to be at the games. I will never forget the organized cheering and chants at the Frozen Four both at the arena and then at the Hotel.

The five NCAA title-winning teams have a special place in the program's history because they each attained the ultimate goal. They each deserve the accolades of our fan base. But we should always remember that each and every team owes so much to those who came before who worked hard to put each of these teams into position where they could reach the lofty heights.

Finally let's not forget the Coaches, Jack Kelley and Jack Parker, who have placed their brands on the program. The wisdom and stability that each brought to BU hockey, and the contributions of fine assistants over the years have played a huge part in the success BU has enjoyed

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