Thursday, February 9, 2012

Terrier Locker Room Confidential

By David Warner, BU ‘73

March 18th 1972….Boston Garden Scoreboard…. Boston University 4 Cornell 0
If that alone was to be the identity of the Terriers’ season, culminating in the first eastern school to win back-to-back national titles, read no further. You could just check every game’s box score on that 26-4-1, 2.16 GAA, 4.85 GFA final stat sheet.

Before some marketing agency gave the city of Las Vegas the slogan “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”, there was “what happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room”, a team rule in many sports. Telling tales of what goes on in the locker room and off the ice is a big no-no.

Perhaps, after forty years, it’s OK to shed some light on the team and the players.
There seemed to be more going on off the ice than on when we return to campus in Fall 1972. Sure the media talked about all the returning letterman and pointed out the team lost three seniors to graduation and how two juniors and a sophomore would fill their spots. Where did junior utility forward Olivier Prechac go? “Jolly Ollie”, a member of the 1968 French Olympic team, played a few games the year before, was listed in the current year media guide and mysteriously disappeared. No one seems to know where and why?

Before the 71-72 season began, a controversy over freshman eligibility was fueled by the NCAA decision to permit Marshall University to use freshman on its football team after most of the upperclassman died in a plane crash in November 1970. The ECAC would allow freshman to play but the Ivy league schools that were part of the ECAC would not. BU would not make a statement that freshman players would not be used at the varsity level. Consequently, Dartmouth cancelled their January game against the Terriers. Yale, Brown, Harvard, Princeton and Cornell, though not using freshman, kept their scheduled dates. UNH, Minnesota and especially Colgate were loaded with freshman.

The 1971-72 BU freshman “B” team had 22 players on the roster. Two would be future All-Americans and eight others would become starters as sophomores on the 1972-73 team. As good as they were, none of the freshman could crack the 21-man varsity lineup – average age 20. That is, until the last two games.

A good trivia question would be “who was the first freshman to play hockey at BU in the modern era?” When senior defenseman Bobby Murray got hurt in the ECAC final game, freshman Vic Stanfield was brought up as the fifth defenseman for the NCAA games and only skated the last minute of the Cornell game. Freshman have now become a mainstay at BU, albeit some are “one and done” or “two and out” referring to the 18 year draft picks who leave for the pros after a few years.

An on-campus home at last
Another oddity was real close to the ice. Practice sessions were held at the new Walter Brown arena with a gaping hole in Section One. The opening was used by the workers to bring in supplies to finish the Case Center, while a large plastic sheet kept the hot air out. The wall was completed before BU’s 6-3 home opener win against Yale. The team was thrilled with the new rink, dressing room, individual cubes with director chairs and the showers. The only concern, especially for the fringe players, was that the names on the player stalls were written by hand on a piece of white tape that could be easily removed.

The upcoming season schedule had all the usual suspects but the boys were especially eyeing two exhibition games. Before the Yale game, we had a November 22nd game against the U.S. Olympic team at Boston Garden. It was a fundraising event for the U.S. Olympic committee. Before the game there were a number of figure skating programs put on by Olympic and world champions. The event was emceed by 1936 Olympic sprint champion Jesse Owens. The governor was there as were Miss Massachusetts and Bruins’ start Bobby Orr. Yet, all the boys were thinking of was “when are they going to be finished?” and how good is the ice going to be in this hot place. The result? It was a tie 4-4.

The second exhibition game, scheduled for February 21st in Montreal, was against an all-star team from the Quebec and Ontario junior A leagues. OK, so what were we thinking? Did it matter that the two goalies that we were to face, Richard Brodeur and Denis Herron, would eventually playa combined 27 years in the NHL/WHA? Did it matter that the NHL’s number two draft choice, Jacques Richard, was getting all the hype and would play 10 years in the NHL? Did it matter that everyone that we played against that night played professionally later on? Sure the game was important. We lost 7-4 to a sold-out venue that was only half full on a night when there was a blizzard outside.

Coach Jack Kelley was ticked off but it didn’t matter because we were in the cathedral of the hockey gods, the Montreal Forum. Most of us had never set foot in the building before that day. We took the tour, sat in the chairs, went high up for an overall look and thought about all the great players that ever skated there. If there truly was a heaven, that place was it. It’s gone now, as are the other five original six NHL rinks.

Down from Canada
Where did we all come from and how did we get together. The team was pretty much a 50/50 split of Canadians and Americans. We all grew up skating on frozen ponds, lakes, rivers, creeks and backyard rinks. There were no mite or squirt leagues then. The earliest organized hockey we had was pee wee around the age of 11. We played many a game of three on three or four on four shinny on the neighbors’ backyard sheet of ice. Sometimes there were boards at the end or along the side but most of the time it was a snow bank. If you shot the puck into the snow, you had to dig it out since it was probably the only puck available. We honed our stick-handling skills playing late spring/early fall road hockey with a tennis ball and shooting into makeshift goals.

We never ran or lifted weights to be or stay in shape. We rarely had our skates on before the first day of practice at BU. Today, to be a hockey player at a division one school, you have to work out with weights, ride the bike, practice skills on the ice every day, watch videos and stay the summer doing all that while taking classes. A full scholarship back in 1972 was $3500 for two semesters of tuition and room/board. Today, it’s close to $50,000...a full time job!

Kelley scouted the local New England area for talent, but it was assistant Bob Crocker who knew us all. Current BU skaters from Canada would refer players from teams that they played on back home. Crocker would drive up North, come into our homes, meet the parents, watch us play and determine if we had the makings of a BU hockey player. He was our freshman coach and helped us with the adjustment of going from the small town kid to being a young man in the big city. We were fed, taught and eased into the system.

The biggest adjustment that some of us had to make was starting the season in late November and playing only 18 games as freshmen. Those that played junior hockey back home started in September and played 60+ games. His preseason opening words are true to this day, “these will be the best four years of your life!” Thank you Bob for all you did!!!

The team started fast and was 8-1-1 at the end of 1971. The only blemishes on our record were a 4-4 tie with Harvard at our home rink and a 3-2 loss to Cornell in the after Syracuse Invitational Tournament.

Changes ahead
Just before and during the tournament, the buzz was again off ice. Just before the December 8th Harvard game it was announced that goalie Tim Regan was selected to be on the USA Olympic team headed for Sapporo, Japan. The boys were proud that one of their own was going to participate in the games in Japan. Tim left in January and would return in mid-February with a silver medal in hand in time to watch a BU 6-5 win against UNH. Dan Brady and sophomores Joe Robillard (no goals scored on him) and Ed Walsh (only three goals) were more than adequate in goal during Tim’s absence. What we missed, was Regan’s spot-on imitation of Coach Kelley. In early season, Tim stepped into a floor to ceiling glass trophy display outside the doors to the rink and gave the famous Kelley one arm in the air salute with the “look”.

Kelley had more off ice news for us. We were all herded into a hotel room in Syracuse. No one knew what was going on. We looked around at each other; it was like one of those “you got my daughter pregnant moments”, except we didn’t know who the culprit was. He announced that he was leaving BU at the end of the year to become coach and GM of the new World Hockey Association New England Whalers. The team responded by losing to Cornell in Syracuse.

The birth of the WHA eventually would have far greater implications than Kelley leaving. Jack would later draft nine of the current Terriers and, the next fall, held the Whalers’ fall training camp at Walter Brown Arena. Four juniors, Ron Anderson, Bobby Brown, Ric Jordan and Billy Flynn gave up their senior year to turn pro. Frosh coach Bob Crocker, passed over for the varsity job and came back next year with the University of Pennsylvania team and upset BU in the 1973 ECAC quarterfinals. RPI coach Leon Abbott who was hired to succeed Kelley, was fired one year later and replaced by Jack Parker.

With the “parent/coach” was leaving and the nine seniors also departing, the annual end of the season Friends of BU Hockey banquet was more like a frat party. During one of the presentations Paul Giandomenico, like a waiter, walked in front of the podium carrying a tray of drinks. A month later, at the 14th Annual BU Hall of Fame banquet we replicated that party. While the team was to be honored for heroics on the ice, most of us were in the Sheraton Plaza bar, more concerned about the ice in the drinks. The boys finally returned to the banquet when, at the end of the event, one of our own, Captain John Danby, was honored with the Mickey Cochrane Award as BU’s Athlete of the Year.

Back on the ice
The New Year saw the team win 13 of its final 16 regular season games. One loss was at Clarkson in early January and another came against Cornell in our last regular season home game. The Cornell game, another 3-2 loss to them, prevented an undefeated inaugural season at Walter Brown and gave Cornell the number one seed in the ECAC Tournament. The two losses to Cornell would fuel our fires for a later day.

The other loss was to Boston College. We had already beaten them at home, 4-1, and in the Beanpot semis, 4-2. The February 23rd game was at Boston College. Eagle Coach Snooks Kelley was retiring after 36 years and except for a possible playoff pairing, this would be the last Kelley Eagles vs. Kelley Terriers meeting. It was anything but a typical game, even for a BU-BC game. We scored five goals, but BC scored seven on the best defense in the nation. Prior to the game, Jack was given a goodbye gift by the BC team. Though we hated to lose and would never throw a game especially to BC, the loss to Boston College was bittersweet. It was Snooks 500th win, an impressive milestone. A few weeks prior to that game, we'd won a third consecutive Beanpot with a Valentine’s Day 4-1 win against Harvard.

Boys will be boys
From day one, this junior-senior team was relaxed and loose. There was more pressure to produce on the ice because everyone wanted to beat the defending national champion. This was a quiet team, not the rah-rah type. Before the game, the boys would go through their rituals, taping the stick, putting the equipment on in a specific order and listen to the locker room music. What did we do to keep everything in perspective?

Since we were student/athletes, homework always came first. After that ten minutes, we had plenty of time to bond and have fun. Most of us roomed with another player and we all lived in the same high-rise building within floors of each other. We would play Euchre, a popular Canadian card game with four players in two partnerships with a deck of 24 standard playing cards, nine to ace. There would be tournaments. I think some of the guys cheated. We also would also have table-top hockey tournaments. Someone brought in an old game; one-on-one games were followed by a tournament. Someone must have gotten mad because the game broke, then disappeared.

In December, we had our very own Christmas party in the dorm, complete with a liquor-breathing Santa (Uncle Mundy). We exchanged gifts. Everyone pulled a name out of a hat and had to buy that person a present. That turned into a roast with some questionable gag gifts, especially for a mixed company crowd.

Other antics included penny-locking someone in their room or stuffing the outside lock with wet paper tissue. If a teammate had a “visitor” and the door was locked, you could jam pennies between the door and the jamb so that the lock could not be turned to open. Stuffing the lock was the opposite. The person couldn’t put his key into the lock to open the door. We really learned this stuff in school!

Another fun thing we did was to tape a guy up so he couldn’t move his arms or legs. The best was doing that and stripping the guy down, securing him to the inside of the girls’ building elevator and pushing all the floor buttons. Most of the time, however, we were low-key. Usually you could find 10 guys lying around in a small dorm room drinking a quart of bad beer, eating chips/pretzels and watching the Bruins. We were conserving energy and learning some plays and moves.

The Fugowees
Not only was the team loose off the ice and in the dressing room, we were relaxed on the bench. Every player had a job and it wasn’t all about goals, assists, backchecking and forechecking. A select group of players—generally the four liners and other backups--would determine which player had earned the prestigious Fugowee of the Game Award. The award would usually go to one of the team’s role players who had made a dubious contribution during the game. The name for the award came from the old joke about the lost Indian tribe, the Fugowees—as in “Where the FUG-OW- EE? “

The award was given out after a win or tie, but not a loss, so that season, there were plenty of winners. For home games, the ceremony took place at The Dugout on Commonwealth Avenue, our second favorite place to hang out—number one, of course, being the rink. The happy award winner was required to down a shot of Canadian Club and deliver a brief speech. If we were on the road, the front of the bus served as the podium. The best away-game presentation followed a 6-1 win at Princeton Larry Abbott received the award—and delivered his speech--on an Eastern Airlines shuttle public address system flying from Newark. The “regular” passengers loved it!

I don’t really know whether Jack approved of the Fugowee Award; he never told us to stop. However, on Banner Night at Walter Brown— a 5-0 game win vs. St Louis Univeristy—he didn’t vote for the Fugowee motto banner we entered: “WIN OR LOSE, WE DRINK THE BOOZE— FUGOWEES”. You know he didn’t like the word “lose.”

The Fugowees had other jobs, too. Besides watching for quirky plays, the boys picked the All-Ugly East Team, opened the bench gate at one end, checked out the crowd and kept notes on all of our off -ice activities.

We spanked Harvard 3-1 and Cornell 4-1 in the ECAC tournament for BU’s first championship in that tournament. Even though we beat the Big Red, they were ranked higher than us and received the number one seed from the East in the NCAAs and would play—and defeat— Denver in the semifinal on Friday. We played the number one Western seed, Wisconsin, on Thursday and beat them 4-1.

Though the NCAA tournament was played at Boston Garden, it was still an away game for us. We stayed at the Sonesta Hotel in Cambridge and had a practice at the Garden on Friday.

The national title game produced nearly the same result as the ECAC title game. This time it was a shutout of Cornell, 4-0. First time they’d been blanked since 1964. And it was especially sweet to win before a sold Boston Garden. [Video highlights , recap]

Gifts and memorabilia
Winning hockey teams, even in college, pick up plenty of commemorative gifts. BU Athletics gave each of us our personalized locker room director’s chair, real nice, plus a solid maple hardwood captain’s chair with a plaque on it. They now sell for $450. I don't think anyone has put theirs up on eBay so we have been moving them around for 40 years from place to place.

Since the Friends of BU Hockey gave us a school ties, we received a number of tie tacks and pins. The Beanpot people gave us a 2”x1” round paperweight and a pewter stein. The University gave us a belt with a buckle on it highlighting the year and the score. The belt disintegrated but the buckle remains. The year before, BU gave us a really nice Beanpot ceramic beer stein with our name on it, scores, school logo, etc. The boys were none too happy to have to go to dinner at the Sherman Union to receive it. We were scheduled to play in the semifinal game of the university intramural slow pitch softball tourney and had to forfeit it. We won it the previous year, over 100 teams. The guys were real proud of that achievement and the trophy and wanted to defend our title. Anyways the stein held a 20 ounce beer.

The ECAC committee presented us with a gold-color Bulova watch with the championship tournament logo on the face and “Winner 1972” inscribed on the back. The clasp used to pinch the hair on your arm, but mine is still ticking.

The NCAA didn’t exactly open the purse strings. At the end of the game, we each received a small box. Inside was a paperweight with the NCAA logo inside and the notation “1972 NCAA ICE HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIPS...CHAMPION”. I guess Cornell got them, too, but theirs said “BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME....LOSER”.

It was nice that the gift givers knew hockey and beer goes hand in hand and that we needed paperweights so our homework wouldn't blow away. Well, they got one right!

The school administrators wanted to be sure we looked good. The athletic department handed out warm up jackets our freshman year and another one later for a Beanpot win. We received a front button style scarlet red letterman sweater after our sophomore year. We could all now look like Wally Cleaver!

In all seriousness, the best gifts were the JACKET and the RING! We cherished the tan leather sleeved scarlet jacket. It had our number on the sleeve and name embroidered inside. We got them a little big so we could wear them with a sweater underneath and parade up and down Comm Ave in the cold of winter on our way to the Dugout. It truly was a chick magnet!

We picked up the RING from the 1970-71 win. They are big, beautiful and mean the world to us. BU has won five NCAA titles and we have two of them.

After the 71-72 win, those players who didn't get a ring the preceding year, received one for the second NCAA title. The rest of us wanted another ring—but college hockey isn’t major league baseball. So you can imagine our reaction when we were presented with a 13” black and white television. The best thing you can say about it was it tuned in about seven channels. It did though have a small plaque with name and scores on the top of it. Probably so we couldn't sell it.

Now, we get wheeled out to mark the milestone years that have passed and the best part is the appreciation and accolades from the Terrier fans— the best fans! During our playing days, we heard from the [student fan organization] Pucker Uppers and listened to the band play “It's Got to B.U.” On March 18th 1972 at Boston Garden, we heard you and knew you were there. It made a difference! We thank you!

There were two official team pictures taken that year. One was in the home reds in front of the stands (in NCAA program) and the other was in the away whites in front of the press box at Brown (in ECAC program). The red one is better and I really don't know why the white one was taken. Maybe Jack felt it fit better on the NCAA trophy.

Nonetheless, in each picture were the boys of 1971-72. Athletes always have nicknames and we had ours: Lloyd, Noser, Andy, Brades, Buck, Toot, Jake, Growler, Raygo, Stoney, Sweep, Tricky, Maxi, Miguel, Weasel, Thunder, Rat, Whizzy and Bowman. Check out the picture at the top of this article and try to guess who has each nickname.

When asked to write a 40th reunion article for the blog from a player's perspective, I first thought I'd just go game-by-game, but think there was much more to that season than lots of wins and a few losses. In the decades that followed, we have lost three—Jim Connors, Ric Jordan and Guy Burrowes— from the ‘71-‘72 team and Olivier Prechac and Saul Weiss from the ‘70-‘71 team. We’re now in our sixties and have gone down life's highway as a father, grandfather, uncle and husband. Standards, rules and regulations were set out for us at Boston University for this journey. The people that touched us then have always been with us.

As you may have guessed by now, this article was written with some tongue in check. We did some funny stuff on and off the ice, which continue to think about and remember among us. The Terriers of 40 years ago were—and remain—a close knit group. Truth be told, the only things that mattered were the jacket—for being Terriers—and the ring—for being champions. Just ask any of the guys. Those other"trinkets"—the TV and paperweights were funny...things to laugh about. We never looked beyond the game and wanted any rewards.

At the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, individuals are glorified for their exploits on the ice. None of us made it there nor are our names inscribed on hockey’s Holy Grail of, the Stanley Cup. If you go to visit, there is a section dedicated to champions from various leagues in Canada and the United States. You can pull up photos of those teams right there in that marvelous place. Look up the 1972 NCAA Division One ice hockey champion. We are there not as individuals, but as a TEAM, as it should be!

GO B.U. !!!!!

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