When following college hockey, the personnel on the teams — not counting the coaches, trainers and other staff — all change completely over the course of four years. In effect, this means what happened more than four years ago is like an entirely different generation.
Such was the case the last time the tournament was held on Causeway Street in Beantown, back in 1998.
First Semifinal — Michigan 4, New Hampshire 0
It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Wolverines in 1997-98. The offseason had seen the Ann Arbor boys graduate quite possibly the finest single class in Michigan history, led by Hobey Baker winner Brendan Morrison (88 pts.), and including future NHLers John Madden (64), Jason Botterill (61), Warren Luhning (45) and Blake Sloan (17) and significant contributors Mike Legg (55) and Harold Schock (34).
The “Michigan Nine” as that senior class was known (the seven listed along with Chris Frescoln and Peter Bourke) had proven unable to repeat as national champions, winning the whole thing in 1996 in Cincinnati over Colorado College, but quite famously losing in the national semifinals in Milwaukee in 1997 against a Chris Drury-led Boston University.
After losing six of their top eight scorers from that year, it was commonly believed that Michigan would have a good, but not spectacular, team. Bill Muckalt, future NHL regular, returned, as did senior netminder Marty Turco. Freshmen Mark Kosick and Josh Langfeld both made an immediate impact with the team.
“Michigan has had more of a rebuilding year [in 1998],” said Michigan coach Red Berenson at the time, “having lost nine seniors and coming off maybe the best team we’ve ever had at Michigan.
“Last season [in 1997], there were a lot of question marks about this year’s team. We found a way to survive. We’re not the offensive team we were last year. We’re not a lot better or a lot worse than any of our opponents.”
The Wolverines finished the regular season with a respectable 27-9-1 record, ending the CCHA conference season at 22-7-1 and in second place, just a point behind Michigan State. But in the last six regular season games, Michigan went just 3-3, including getting swept by Chad Alban and the rival Spartans. Michigan advanced to the CCHA semifinals, but were eliminated by upstart Ohio State, 4-2, and had to settle for a No. 3 seed in the NCAA West Regional.
However, the Wolverines pulled off one of the upsets that they have become so famous for, as Michigan hosted that regional at Yost Arena, and after downing ECAC Tournament winner Princeton, rode the energy of the home crowd to a 4-3 upset win over No. 2 seed North Dakota.
But the Frozen Four was in Boston, a long way from those friendly Yost Arena fans.
Michigan’s opponent in the opening game was New Hampshire, a team that was riding a pretty big high after a thrilling regional win. The Wildcats were trying to establish themselves as a national power, in the middle of a three-year cycle that would transform the Wildcats from happy-to-be-here, one-and-out competitors against Colorado College in 1997, to Frozen Four team in 1998, to a team in an overtime game in the national finals in 1999 in Anaheim.
“We want to get to the next level,” said UNH coach Dick Umile, at the time. “We couldn’t get out of the regionals before, but this is the year we finally got to the [Frozen] Four. It’s the next step. Our program wants to compete at the national level, but it’s not easy.”
The team, which finished third in the conference with a 15-8-1 record was led offensively by junior Jason Krog, a future Hobey Baker Award winner (1999) and NHL regular with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Derek Bekar and Mark Mowers, which finished second and fourth in scoring on that team, also saw time in the NHL. Krog and Mowers became the first ever finalists for the Hobey Baker Award from New Hampshire in 1998.
The heads of the New Hampshire players were still spinning after a thrilling, come-from-behind overtime victory over conference rival and No. 1 NCAA seed Boston University in Albany in the quarterfinals. The winning goal came off the stick of Mowers, who scored shorthanded to send the team to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1982.
When Michigan scored first in the semifinal, no doubt New Hampshire felt in familiar territory. After all, the Wildcats rebounded from a 3-1 deficit to Wisconsin in their first game of the NCAA tournament to post a 7-4 final. The quarterfinal victory over BU was also of the come-from-behind category. A Bubba Berenzweig shorthanded goal and a 1-0 deficit was no cause for panic.
When Berenzweig scored again, this time on the power play, followed less than a minute later by a Geoff Koch marker, the time was ripe for concern. Even more disturbing than the 3-0 hole, however, was New Hampshire’s talented offense being outshot 25-9 after two periods.
The Wildcats made a third period run, but a Matt Herr goal and the goaltending of Michigan’s Marty Turco proved to be too much, and New Hampshire never got on the board. Turco ended with a 19-save shutout.
“When we played North Dakota, there was no question that they had the best offensive team in the country,” said Berenson after the game. “Playing that game prepared us for playing New Hampshire, who I compare to North Dakota, a team that can bury you in five minutes. We knew we couldn’t have two bad shifts in a row.
“I never felt safe until we scored the fourth goal, not because I didn’t trust our team, but because I didn’t trust New Hampshire.”
Second Semifinal — Boston College 5, Ohio State 2
It’s hard to imagine this now, in 2004, with Boston College a perennial Frozen Four contender and a national powerhouse. But back in 1998, it was a shock to see the Eagles actually make the NCAA tournament, let alone end up in Boston on the final weekend of the collegiate hockey season.
Before 1998, the last time BC had made it to the NCAA Tournament was back in 1991. And the last time the team had won an NCAA postseason game was in 1990. A string of struggles in the 1990s, which included the retirement of legendary coach Len Ceglarski (419 wins with the Eagles) in 1992, combined with the two lost years under coach Steve Cedorchuk (24-40-10 in two years at The Heights) and the resignation of Mike Milbury before he ever coached a game, had left the once proud Boston College program in a shambles.
Enter Jerry York. A BC alum, York came to Chestnut Hill after successful stints at Clarkson and Bowling Green that saw him win a national title and earn 467 victories. York attracted new talent to BC, including, first, Marty Reasoner and later on future NHLers Brian Gionta, Mike Mottau, Blake Bellefeuille, Jeff Farkas and Scott Clemmensen, all of which appeared on this 1998 team.
But entering the season, no one really knew what was in store. After all, the year before, with Reasoner, Farkas, Bellefeuille and Mottau, the team had finished under .500. While it was obvious the Eagles were on the upswing, few would have predicted a Frozen Four appearance at the start of the season. In the preseason USCHO.com poll that year, Boston College didn’t even crack the top 10, and was the fourth “Other Receiving Votes” team with just 6 points.
“It’s something we knew was going to happen eventually,” Reasoner said about BC’s return to the Frozen Four, prior to the Thursday semifinal. “I’m just glad I’m a part of it. … I don’t know if I’d have said back in October that we’d definitely make the [Frozen] Four, but as we’ve done better and the season has gone along, we’ve come together and started to believe in ourselves.
“Now we believe we can beat any team in the country.”
After finishing second in Hockey East with a 15-5-4 record, Boston College was given a No. 2 seed in the NCAA East Regional, which included a bye. After steamrolling over Colorado College by a 6-1 score, the Eagles found themselves playing in front of a large hometown crowd at the FleetCenter.
Facing the Eagles was Ohio State, a team riding some pretty big momentum to get to Boston. The Buckeyes finished third in the CCHA regular season, and after dispatching Michigan in the semis, made it to the tournament finals, facing top seed and nationally-ranked No. 1 Michigan State. Ohio State fell to the Chad Alban-led Spartans 3-2 in double overtime, but was still invited to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 4 seed.
And when the brackets were announced, the Buckeyes didn’t have to become familiar with their quarterfinal foe — the same Michigan State team that had just defeated them in the CCHA finals. After a 4-0 win over Yale to produce the conference rematch, Ohio State made the most of the opportunity, playing a classic overtime game, this time being decided by a 4-3 score in Ohio State’s favor, and propelling the Buckeyes to Boston.
“It’s a whole new situation to us each and every weekend — making the playoffs at Joe Louis, and then the regionals, and now the Final Four,” said OSU coach John Markell. “We have to accept the fact that it’s all new to us and not to get caught up in the hoopla.”
Ohio State was one of the hottest teams in the nation in the second half of the season. After starting the year 8-10-1, from Jan. 9 to the Frozen Four the Buckeyes were 18-2-1. In net for Ohio State was freshman standout Jeff Maund, who entered the tournament with a sterling .921 save percentage. His job was to outduel BC’s own freshman goaltender, a young Scott Clemmensen, whose .887 save percentage paled by comparison.
Freshman Brian Gionta staked the Eagles to an early lead, on a shorthanded breakaway attempt that caught Maund out of position. Jeff Farkas made it a 2-0 game on a wraparound, and the Eagles appeared to be in control, outshooting the Buckeyes by a 28-7 margin midway through the second period.
Ohio State wasn’t about to go easily, however, and evened the score with a pair of Dan Cousineau goals about three minutes apart during a flurry at the end of the second frame.
The third began tied at 2, but Eagle star Reasoner scored a pair of goals, sandwiched by an Andy Powers tally, to seal the game for BC.
Whether it was the hoopla getting to the Ohio State, or being in front of a hostile standing room only crowd at the FleetCenter, or simply the fact that Boston College was a better team, the Buckeyes had to settle for the 5-2 loss.
Since then, Ohio State has appeared in three of six NCAA Tournaments, but has yet to win another game.
And back in 1998, the Eagles had a date with Michigan for the NCAA Championship.
Hobey Baker Memorial Award
On Friday, the off day between Thursday’s semifinals and Saturday’s championship game, was the presentation of the Hobey Baker Award. The award went to Boston University’s Chris Drury, and the announcement drew some controversy.
Boston University was the No. 1 seed in the East, and Drury was the top scorer on the team. However, Drury’s scoring total for the year, 57 points on 28 goals and 29 assists, was down from the previous year (62 pts.) which, in turn, was down from his sophomore season (67).
The decline in his point production was linked, it was said, to his greater defensive role on the Terriers, which included a number of younger players. Despite the lower output from Drury (which still led his team in his senior season), BU finished in first place in Hockey East with a comfortable four-point lead over second-place Boston College.
When the award was presented to Drury, BU coach Jack Parker said:
“I’ve coached a lot of great players at BU — this is my 25th season. There were a lot of people that made it to the NHL, a lot of people who didn’t make it to the NHL but who were great players. I don’t remember coaching anybody that combined the talent, the determination and competitive spirit that Chris Drury has shown from first day of practice to his last day at Boston University.”
The other primary candidate for the award was Chad Alban, goaltender for Michigan State. Alban had put up some unreal numbers for the season. Against teams that were in the NCAA tournament, for instance, Alban sported a 1.41 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. He allowed two goals or less in 32 of his 40 games that year.
Alban won USCHO.com’s popular “Vote For Hobey” feature, but the knock on him came from the outstanding defense in front of him. It was never clear to what extent Alban’s incredible numbers came from the goaltender, and how much from the defense.
History, perhaps, has borne out the choice. Both Drury and Alban graduated that year, and while Drury went on to immediately play in the National Hockey League and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year, Alban never made it beyond the AHL.
The Hobey Baker award, of course, is not about predicting future success in the NHL. There have been many players who have received the award and who have not gone on to play in the NHL. But one can look at the what the loss of the players may have meant to the programs.
In Drury’s senior season, BU finished with a 28-8-2 record, ended up in first in Hockey East, and received a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in the East. The next year, the Terriers were 14-20-3, fifth in Hockey East, and didn’t receive an NCAA bid.
Michigan State finished first in league play in Alban’s final year, had a 31-6-5 record, and received a No. 1 bid to the NCAA Tournament in the West. In 1999, the Spartans had a 29-6-7 record, finished first in the CCHA again, and advanced to the NCAA Frozen Four. And sophomore goalie Joe Blackburn posted a season goals against average of 1.44.
Not all of this can be linked to any one player, of course. Both teams had other players departing and returning, and other factors influenced the development of the programs. But it certainly seems as though Alban was replaced handily by Blackburn, while Drury’s immediate success at the next level branded him as an elite player.
Michigan State would only need to wait a few more years for Hobey redemption, however, as a Spartan netminder by the name of Ryan Miller would go on to win the award in 2002. But that’s another story.
Championship Game — Michigan 3, Boston College 2, OT
When the NCAA bids in 1998 were first announced, the No. 1 seeds in the West and East were Michigan State and Boston University, respectively. Both were flirting with the top of the USCHO.com poll, and a meeting between the two teams for the national title was not out of the question.
How distressing for fans of the two teams then, when events unfolded so that the arch-rivals of the two squads, Michigan and Boston College, ended up living the dream? And in each case, both the Spartans and the Terriers were eliminated from the NCAA Quarterfinals in overtime by a conference foe.
Now the No. 2 seed Boston College — home team in fact as well as in spirit, with a packed FleetCenter crowd firmly behind the Eagles — were facing off against the No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines.
In many ways, the two teams came at the game from different directions.
Michigan was an established, storied program. The Wolverines had appeared in four of the last five Frozen Fours, winning it all in 1996. They had appeared in each NCAA tournament, and advanced at least one round, in each year since 1991 — the last time BC made the NCAA postseason cut.
The Wolverines were a rebuilding team, but were led by an experienced, senior goaltender in Marty Turco. Turco’s numbers, in particular a save percentage of .903, was not the most impressive, but he did have an NCAA record number of shutouts at the time (since eclipsed by Miller). While some skeptics felt Turco’s numbers were enhanced by the defense in front of him as MSU’s Alban did, Turco would go on to be, and still is, a regular netminder for the Dallas Stars of the NHL.
Boston College, on the other hand, was building the program nearly from the ground up. After recruiting snafus and an embarrassing play-in game loss to cellar-dweller Massachusetts in 1995, the Eagles were left searching for an identity. Then came Marty Reasoner, and the rest of the stream of blue chippers that eventually returned Boston College to an annual juggernaut.
But this was the first NCAA experience for any player on the squad, and that was especially true in between the pipes. The BC netminder Scott Clemmensen was a freshman, and while he had an impressive 24-win debut season, his .887 save percentage made Turco’s 93 percent look fantastic.
Clemmensen, of course, would go on to win a national title himself in 2001, after four straight appearances in the Frozen Four. He would also appear in the NHL following college.
Both goaltenders looked sharp in the title game, Turco making 28 saves while allowing just two goals, and Clemmensen allowing three goals on 32 shots.
Kevin Caulfield opened scoring for BC in the first on a slapshot into the far corner of the net.
In the second the teams traded goals as rookie Mark Kosick, second on the Michigan team in scoring, potted one and Eagle Mike Lephart roofed the rebound of a Jeff Farkas redirection.
“Going into the third, we were down 2-1,” said Muckalt, who was a sophomore on Michigan’s championship team from two years prior. “So I said, ‘Remember back in ’96. We were behind 2-1 going into the third period and you guys know what happened.’ I think it gave the guys a little confidence.”
Kosick scored arguably the biggest goal of his career in the third period, knotting the game at two and sending it to overtime, where Josh Langfeld scored to give Michigan it’s ninth NCAA title.
“I just shot it low,” said Langfeld. “I wasn’t shooting for a corner. I just put it on net, it went in the net and we’re national champions!”
Appropriately for the rebuilding Wolverines, freshmen accounted for all three goals in the game.
The next time these two teams met in NCAA action was in the Frozen Four semifinal in Albany in 2001, where BC avenged this game with a 4-2 win. Then the Eagles went on to win their first NCAA Championship in 52 years with their own 3-2 overtime win, this time over North Dakota.
“If you’re going to coach a long time, you’ve got to have a short memory,” Jerry York said recently, about the ’98 overtime loss. “Like if you miss a putt on 17 you’ve got to get it out of your mind before 18.”
Or before the 2001 Frozen Four, apparently.
Thanks to Dave Hendrickson and Paula C. Weston for contributions to this article.