Norm Maciver visited the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto a few years ago and a television monitor was showing great goals in hockey history.
He saw himself on the ice.
It wasn’t during one of his 500 games as an NHL defenseman, but as a Minnesota-Duluth sophomore. Maciver was at the Olympic Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., on March 24, 1984, against Bowling Green State in the NCAA men’s final.
Maciver was witness to one of the most remarkable championship games in Division I history. It still stands as the longest — 97 minutes and 11 seconds.
Painfully, he watched as Bowling Green winger Gino Cavallini scored the winning goal in an epic four-overtime 5-4 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 7,918.
The pain is still there 20 years later.
“It’s the most disappointing game I’ve ever been part of. By far the most disappointing,” Maciver, 39, now a Boston Bruins assistant coach, said this week. “The type of team we had, we thought it was the start of something. We thought if we won that year it was possible to win two more titles. But that didn’t happen, which makes 1984 stand out that much more.”
Neither UMD nor Bowling Green has been back to an NCAA final. The Bulldogs were in the 1985 semifinals in Detroit, where they lost in three overtimes to Rensselaer, and in the NCAAs last in 1993. Bowling Green hasn’t been in the NCAAs since 1990.
And the teams hadn’t met since — until Friday, which turned out to be a far cry from the game 20 years ago, a 6-1 Minnesota-Duluth win. The teams will meet again Saturday.
Later this season, each team will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the 1984 title game. UMD hockey alumni will gather Feb. 27-28, while Bowling Green has a reunion Feb. 12-14.
AN EMOTIONAL RIDE
Much went into UMD’s memorable journey in 1983-84. The year before, the Bulldogs and rookie coach Mike Sertich had gained their first NCAA berth in school history as a controversial choice over Bowling Green, then opened their run to the finals with a 12-0 loss to the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.
Yet UMD carried on for its first WCHA regular-season title, its first playoff championship and first NCAA victory, over Clarkson in the quarterfinals at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center.
The Bulldogs also carried the memory of athletic director and former coach Ralph Romano, who was stricken with a heart attack while watching a December game against Denver at the DECC. He died within an hour at age 49. Patches bearing his initials were sewn onto UMD’s uniforms for the rest of the season.
A Bill Watson overtime goal against North Dakota in the NCAA semifinals secured the meeting with Bowling Green, which eliminated Michigan State.
“People in Duluth had been waiting an awfully long time for something like this and I never really understood the magnitude of it until many years later,” said Sertich, 56, UMD’s head coach for 18 years through 2000 and now retired. “I’d love to go back in time and savor the moment, and to be back in the company of our players.
“The championship game itself was amazing. I don’t think college hockey had seen a game like that before.”
Yet Sertich, a bartender twice-a-week at the Blue Max Resort on LaVaque Road in Duluth, says he still hasn’t watched video tape of the Bowling Green game. Many of his former players say the same thing.
STARS OF THE GAME
Jerry York, Bowling Green’s coach at the time, recently spent a few minutes looking at the official score sheet from the 1984 championship game. The current Boston College coach, who won the 2001 Division I title, was sitting in the stands in East Lansing, Mich., before playing UMD in the Ice Breaker Tournament in October.
York, 58, says he has the sheet framed and on a wall in his office and is always amazed by the number of future professional players between the teams. Guys like Maciver, Watson and Tom Kurvers of UMD, and Cavallini, Garry Galley and Dave Ellet of Bowling Green.
Kurvers, 41, a defenseman who played 11 NHL seasons, says he’s run into Bowling Green players over the years, like Ellet, and 1984 is always remembered.
“It was a remarkable game that we shared. It was a great sporting event and the most unique I’ve ever played in,” said Kurvers, a pro scout for the Phoenix Coyotes and a senior that season. “There’s something about college hockey — the skill, the talent, the daring — where you go as hard as you can and that’s what I remember.
“Would it have changed any of our lives if we had won the game, probably not. I don’t feel a whole lot of pain because of losing. It was a priceless moment.”
Kurvers has a another reason for a fond memory of Lake Placid. He was awarded the 1984 Hobey Baker Memorial Award during the tournament as the best player in Division I.
NO. 1 VS. NO. 4
UMD came into the title game ranked No. 1 and finished the season 29-12-2. Bowling Green was No. 4 and ended 34-8-2.
They knew little about each other except by reputation. The schools had only met once before, three years earlier.
Bowling Green took a 1-0 lead but was never ahead again until the final goal. The Bulldogs went up 2-1 after two periods and then 3-1 just 47 seconds into the third period. Their advantage was 4-2 with eight minutes left.
“The score was in our favor, but I never felt that the game was in hand. I never felt comfortable,” said Mark Odnokon, 41, a sophomore winger that season, and now a high school teacher and assistant coach with the Prince Albert (Saskatchewan) Raiders.
“You always think of three or four plays you were involved in that could’ve turned the game your way. It’s just a bad memory. I’ve never really gotten over losing.”
Just 6:18 remained when Bowling Green got within 4-3 in what was turning out to be a battle of freshman goalies. UMD’s Rick Kosti finished with 55 saves (the second-most in Frozen Four history) and tournament MVP Gary Kruzich of Bowling Green made 32.
By that time, UMD senior winger Bill Mason was sidelined. He went shoulder-to-shoulder with an opposing player in the second period breaking his left collarbone, the same collarbone he broke earlier in the season.
“I remember being on the bench and being so excited about being ahead. I was thinking ‘If we hang on, we’re going to be the national champions,’ ” said Mason, 42, now parks and recreation director for International Falls (Minn.) and its school district, and a WCHA referee.
It wasn’t to be. The strangest play of the tournament — and maybe of a lifetime — pulled Bowling Green even.
Bowling Green defenseman Wayne Wilson dumped the puck along the left boards into the corner of the UMD zone. Some observers believe the play should’ve been called for icing. Some believe it was off-side. Sertich says he talked to Wilson, who admitted it was icing.
But there was no call. As Kosti went behind the net to control the puck, it hit a crack, or a screw, or something in the end boards, and deflected toward the goal. The puck hit the left post and stopped near the crease, and center John Samanski had a tap-in score with 1:47 to play.
“It happened so fast that I didn’t know what to do; I felt helpless,” Kosti said at the time.
UMD, which hadn’t lost a third-period lead all season, was forced to sudden death. The four overtimes (then 10 minutes each) were dominated by UMD but Kruzich was at his best.
The winning play was nearly perfect as Dan Kane made a pass deep in the UMD zone and Cavallini went to his backhand from the right edge of the crease. Kosti had no chance. The game took 3 hours and 55 minutes.
“I’ll be 70 years old and still won’t enjoy talking about that game,” said Watson, 39, a former NHL winger and now a Duluth financial consultant. “Sure you can look at the whole season and say how successful it was, but it always comes down to that one game and it was the most disheartening thing I’ve ever had to go through.”
Bowling Green’s memories are more glowing, says Scott Paluch, the school’s present coach. He was a high school senior being recruited by Bowling Green when the Falcons won the 1984 title. He then played four seasons at Bowling Green and was an All-American defenseman.
The victory 20 years ago remains the only national championship in school history.
“There’s a celebratory picture from Lake Placid that we made into a large mural and it’s the first thing our players see when they come to the rink,” said Paluch. “It’s a daily reminder to them what you can accomplish.”
This article was reprinted, by permission, from the Friday, Jan. 2 issue of the Duluth News-Tribune. Kevin Pates can be reached at [email protected]