Monday, October 13, 2008

Perfection: the 1968-69 freshman hockey team


The letter was dated February 21, 1968. I had been accepted to Boston University to begin studies in September of that year. I couldn't wait to share my good fortune with members of the freshman hockey team and their coach, Bob Crocker. While arrival was seven months away, I made certain that he knew of my interest in being a team manager.

Some time in August, I journeyed to the athletic department to meet with Coach and get the team roster for the upcoming year. Unlike today with the Internet where everyone knows the full lives and exploits of the incoming recruits long before they arrive, I knew of only three of the players: Don "Toot" Cahoon, the legendary Marblehead High School All-Scholastic, Paul Giandomenico from Walpole, and a goalie, Tim Regan from Providence Rhode Island whom I had met at the season ending hockey banquet at Valle's Steak House, not far from my home. Armed with a roster and some background, I couldn't wait for the orientation process to begin.

In early September, I went to the West Campus dorms to hang out. I ran in to Mickey Gray, a senior hockey player, and we exchanged pleasantries. Shortly thereafter, a tall fellow came in wearing a Chatham Maroons hockey blazer. I introduced myself to Bob Gryp, barely giving him time to get his bearings. Then, we were joined by Guy Burrowes. There was a dry spell and so I invited them back to my home for hamburgers and we spent some time there before returning. During the next two days, players kept arriving. Coach Crocker had a team meeting where received red windbreakers with what purported to be a skating Terrier. It looked more like some sort of wildcat, but, nonetheless, it identified all of us as part of the program. During the orientation period, it was not unusual to see a wave of red coming and going up and down the campus. In addition we had street hockey games in the area between the dorm and the athletic offices, but those ended after some flower beds were trampled. Still, you could see this group was going to be special.

Practice began October 15th with Coach Crocker and Assistant Coach Andy Fila tasked with teaching everyone the BU system. The freshman program allowed you to adjust to school, learn the system and play an abbreviated schedule. In my opinion, that transition was much easier than today when players must immediately adjust academically and to Division 1 hockey. Varsity Coach Jack Kelley would watch our practices following the 4:30-6:00 varsity practices. He was familiar with all of the recruited players but certainly was interested in seeing if there were any diamonds in the rough among the "walk-ons."

An interesting thing developed initially with the first line of John Danby, Cahoon, and Burrowes. Most Mass high school players were used to shouldering the entire burden and Toot was no exception. It was not unusual to see him go the length of the ice in an effort to score. Danby and Burrowes, from Canadian junior programs, had not experienced this sort of thing, and chose to pass the puck between themselves. Coach quickly got the three together and explained the realities of BU Hockey. All here were exceptional players and wouldn't be here if they didn't have the talent. That said, this line would go on to be very productive. We couldn't wait for real games—an 18 game schedule—to start.

A number of the players who couldn’t go home for Thanksgiving celebrated with my family, leading to a relationship with my parents and my aunts and uncles that lasted until they passed. This “family-sharing” tradition has been carried on by other players and managers, contributing to the fabric of the program that makes BU Hockey special to those who are a part of it.

We opened the season hosting Brown at Boston Arena. Freshman games began at 6:30 P.M. and the crowds tended to be friends and relatives until the third period when most of the fans would be in their seats to see the varsity. Toot and Guy each had two goals and Pete Thornton and Gryp had the others as BU rolled to a 6-1 win. We traveled to New Hampshire and won 6-3, with Danby, Rick Comfort and Burrowes getting 2 goals each. Comfort had a stick with the most outrageous curve I have ever seen and he could shoot. In practice he injured both goalies, Dan Brady and Tim Regan, with slapshots. We headed to the holiday break after beating Harvard, 5-2, to reach 3-0.

During the break, we beat Yale, then headed up Commonwealth Avenue to take on the arch-rival Boston College. We rolled over the Eagles 5-2 and then reeled off four straight shutouts: 5-0 over both New Hampshire and Providence, 10-0 over RPI and 8-0 over Dartmouth. Brady and Regan were impregnable in goal and everyone had a hand in the scoring: Danby, Cahoon, Burrowes, Gryp, Comfort, Giandomenico, Tim McAdam, Charlie Dane, Californian John Donovan, Pete Thornton and Joe Meehan; even the goaltenders got into the act, registering assists. The defense was rock solid with Rick Comfort, Ted Bryand, Bob Murray and Bill Fenwick behind the blue line. Fans began to come early as the unbeaten streak extended.

A 16-1 rout of New Prep was followed by a 9-0 shutout of Salem State to begin February. Game 12 saw the team take on the Harvard JV. Danby (2), Thornton, Comfort, Burrowes, and Cahoon had the goals as we escaped 6-4. Regan came up with some big stops in net. On the day of our trip to Providence The Boston Globe ran an article on the team headlined, "BU Freshman Skaters Seek Perfect Dream." The Terriers dodged a huge bullet that day edging the Friars in the Rhode Island Auditorium, 5-4, despite the hat trick by the Friars Jerry Lessechyn, Gryp’s teammate in Chatham. Brady turned away 25 shots. Goal scorers were Giandomenico (2), Danby, Comfort, and Cahoon. Thornton led the assault in a 6-1 win over Northeastern, scoring 2 goals. McAdam, Burrowes, Comfort, and Gryp had the others. Comfort's goal came on a slapshot from the BU blueline that broke the stick of NU goalie John Burke and bounced over him into the net! A rematch with Salem State produced a 13-1 drubbing. In this game, defensive- oriented defender Bob Murray showed his offensive prowess launching a rocket past Salem goalie Voltero to get on the score sheet. A blizzard forced cancellation of the rematch against New Prep.

Two games remained to be played, both at home: BC and Merrimack. The Eagles led after one period and it was tied after two. However BU won going away 6-2. behind Cahoon’s hattrick, a pair by Danby and one by Thornton. Brady stood tall in the net.

The team concluded the first undefeated, untied season in both BU hockey and school history, thumping Merrimack 10-0 in the finale. Meehan (2), Fenwick (2), Cahoon, Danby, Burrowes, Thornton, Giandomenico, and McAdam were the goal scorers and Regan had the shut out.

Coach Crocker was asked about the potential of this team for varsity play. He responded that while the competition would certainly be stiffer, "if desire means anything, they could go a long way." He would be proven correct as much of this team would become the core of BU’s back-to-back NCAA title winners in 1971 and 1972.

Statistically, each and every player contributed. Burrowes led the team in goals with 20, while Cahoon and Danby each had 19. Comfort added 15 from his defensive position. The lone position player not to tally a goal was co-captain Bryand but he and Murray were solid in the defensive end, allowed Comfort’s forays into the offensive zone. The team outscored its opposition125-23 and each goaltender authored three shutouts. Rich Molloy, the third goaltender,was an integral part of the squad as well. Giandomenico, Meehan, Thornton, Gryp, McAdam, and Dane were solid forwards who played good two way hockey and provided scoring power as well. The four-man defensive corps--Comfort, Bryand, Fenwick and Murray—were consistent and solid in front of Regan and Brady.

Coach Crocker taught the players the BU system and Coach Andy Fila helped the goalies to refine the raw talent that they brought to Commonwealth Avenue. His work with them through their BU careers would pay off as both would earn MVP honors in the NCAA Tournament, Brady in 1971 and Regan 1972.

It's hard to believe that 40 years have passed since this team arrived on Commonwealth Avenue. Those who moved up to the varsity would follow the unbeaten season with three Beanpot titles, BU’s first ECAC championship and the only back-to-back NCAA titles posted by an Eastern school. Danby and Brady would earn All America Honors. Both, along with Regan, are enshrined in the BU Athletics Hall of Fame. Many would go on to play pro hockey with reasonable levels of success. All have moved on to careers in business, professions and hockey as well. There are families, children and in some cases grandchildren. Sadly, we lost Guy Burrowes to a tragic accident in 1980. He will never be forgotten.

As for me 1968-1969 was the realization of a dream to become a hockey manager at BU. Little did I know that it would turn out to be the ride of a lifetime. My BU teammates remain some of my closest friends today despite geographic distance and the passage of time. BU opens its Hockey East season this Friday night at home against Merrimack.

Rummaging through the attic, I located the red windbreaker with the skating Terrier (that looks like a wildcat) which gave that team its identification 40 winters ago. To honor that team, I plan to wear it to the opener.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

My dad was Guy Burrowes. I so appreciated having this glimpse into his time at BU. Thank you for taking the time to write this post and share special memories of what clearly was an exceptional team of players, friends.
Natalie Burrowes Pruitt