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.”

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