Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Game That Never Was

The Game That Never Was

By David Warner, BU ‘73

On December 13 1972, there was the game that never was.

There have been many memorable games played between Cornell and Boston University. The 1972-73 team included six seniors (Larry Abbott, Ray Cournoyea, Steve Dolloff, Mike LeGarde, David Warner, David Wisener) who were a part of the 1971 and/or the 1972 NCAA championship squads. In December 1971, we were edged by Cornell, 3-2, at the Syracuse Holiday Tournament final as the Big Red avenged the previous season’s 6-5 ECAC consolation game loss, which put BU into the 1971 NCAA tournament. Later, Cornell came into our new Walter Brown arena for the season finale and beat us again, 3-2, for our only home defeat that season. That win earned Cornell the top seed in the upcoming ECAC tournament at Boston Garden.

Going into the 1972 ECAC tournament, we had only lost four games all year, two of those to Cornell. Everything that was to happen from here on out was magical and would impact hockey at BU for the next 35 years.

Those two losses were enough for us to remember and, as a group, rise up and smother Cornell, 4-1, in the ECAC final and shut them out 4-0 in the NCAA championship game. The 1971-72 BU team was like no other. There was a confident locker room attitude that carried out to the ice surface. This team was explosive on offense and stingy on defense. There were 18 players that had been on both NCAA teams. It might just have been the greatest collegiate team ever assembled. Editor’s note: Coach Jack Kelley said of the ’71-72 team, “I always felt this group could win any game when they put their minds to it.”

The 1972-73 team found itself minus a staggering nine letterman lost to graduation and four other key players who turned pro before their senior years. Ric Jordan and Bob Brown followed Coach Jack Kelley to the new WHA New England Whalers organization, Ron Anderson signed with the Bruins; AHL team and Bill Flynn went to the International League.

Still, things were not really that bad because the sophomore class was as good as or better than graduated letterman when they were sophomores. They were a scoring machine. Paul O’Neil would score 35 goals in 28 games, while Vic Stanfield and Bill Burlington would end up All-Americans the following season. Freshman Peter Brown would become an All-American in his senior year. All totaled, the 71-72 and 72-73 teams had eight current or future All-Americans: John Danby, Dan Brady, Steve Dolloff, Ed Walsh and Bob Brown are the others.

On December 13th, we traveled to Cornell’s Lynah arena with a 6-1 record and a number one national ranking. There, we handed Cornell its worst home defeat in school history: a 9-0 drubbing. While it was a solid team effort, one Terrier stood out with three goals, sophomore Dick Decloe. The hattrick gave him nine goals in eight games and it looked like he might have All-American credentials in his future, too. But the matter of a $189.33 school tax and the actions of then Cornell AD John Anderson paved the way for what became known as “L’affair Decloe.”

While Decloe, a tall lanky winger, played junior hockey in Ontario, his Jr. A team had paid a provincial school tax on Dick’s behalf, unbeknownst to Decloe and his family. This was considered an unauthorized educational expense that would make the recipient a professional and ineligible to play college hockey. Tom Burke of The Hockey News commented “How many preppies get their expenses paid to some of the prep schools by the colleges they eventually attend?” Imagine nowadays, we have the $40,000 a year student-athlete who leaves after a year or two for a multimillion-dollar NHL contract.

One of Cornell’s players, a teammate of Decloe in Ontario, had previously been declared ineligible. Anderson and Coach Dick Bertrand conveyed the similarity of Decloe’s situation to the ECAC, ostensibly to rectify their own player’s situation. Or maybe just maybe it was those three straight losses to BU by a combined 17-1 score that pushed their buttons!!

BU’s Athletic Director Warren Schmakel reacted angrily to the Cornell actions. “I’m disappointed that Cornell didn’t contact me directly,” he said. “I don’t think they should have gone to the ECAC.” He added that he couldn’t understand why Cornell didn’t directly fight the earlier decision instead of using Decloe as a “lever” to have that decision reverse, according to The Daily Free Press.

Declared ineligible, Dick left school and returned to Toronto where he would win a Memorial Cup with the Howe brothers. Editor’s Note: Decloe later represented Holland in the same 1980 Winter Olympics in which four Terriers led the U.S.A. to its miracle gold medal.

To the six seniors, the 9-0 blowout in Ithaca became “The Game That Never Was!” The Terriers had to forfeit eleven wins. Our record went from an 11-4 to a 0-15, from national ranking to the bottom of the pile.

I suppose the seniors could have looked at our championship rings and kissed off the season. No one would have blamed us, but we decided that the “sweaty-palmed men who run the ECAC” (according to the Boston Globe’s Mike Lupica) would not deter us while we were on the ice. Four things were written on the dressing room chalkboard: Beanpot, ECAC, Cornell and the NCAA. These things were our goals! For the next 12 games, we were undefeated with an 11-0-1 mark, the best streak in the country. That run included a 4-1 victory against BC for the Beanpot championship, the third in a row for the seniors.

Before our final regular season game, the ECAC playoff seedings were announced. We were seeded fourth instead of number one, a distinction that went to Cornell. In a lackluster performance, we lost that game in Providence, 3-0. Still, we were on to the playoffs for a home game against Penn.

Perhaps we had our sights on Cornell or maybe we peaked too early having to win virtually every one of our last games just to get home ice. Or perhaps the fired up Penn team wanted to win this one for their coach, Bob Crocker. Ironically, Crocker, a BU grad and former frosh coach, had been passed over for the BU varsity job in favor or Leon Abbott when Jack Kelley left for the pros. Many of the players agreed that we had looked past Penn and only saw Cornell.

I think all of us wanted, at the least, to hip check a Big Red into the stands at Boston Garden in the ECAC final game.

Oh, I did mention earlier that it was magical time and that the “Decloe affair” would impact BU hockey for the next 35 years? Cornell set off a chain of events that isn’t talked about much. We were forced to win all those games and peaked far too early. Coach Leon Abbott lost a third ECAC quarterfinal game (the previous two, by 11-0 and 8-2 scores, were against BU while he coached RPI). Then six games into the following season, Abbott was dismissed by BU. Maybe it had to do with quarterfinal losses or recruitment procedures; no one will say. The reins were handed to Jack Parker and, as they say, the rest is history.

As for me and my fellow 72-73 senior teammates, we wish that we’d had that one last chance at Cornell. But we can look at and polish our NCAA championship rings, knowing that BU has won two more NCAA championships since then and has reached the title game three more times. The talk in Boston for many years was about the “curse of the bambino”. Just think, Cornell has not been to an NCAA final game since losing to BU, 4-0, in 1972. Maybe that is “the curse of Dick Decloe.”

GO BU!!!!

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