Recent drought notwithstanding, Boston has played a key role in Frozen Four history

Matthews Arena was known as Boston Arena when it hosted the 1960 Frozen Four (photo: Melissa Wade).

It has been 11 years since the Frozen Four last stopped in Boston, and the tournament has been there just twice in the last 37 seasons. But that doesn’t mean the city doesn’t hold a special place in Frozen Four history.

In fact, when Saturday’s championship game is played, it will be the eighth time a title has been decided in Boston (including the 1963 championship played on Boston College’s campus in Chestnut Hill), which will place it securely second on the list of most championship games played in one city.

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So let’s take a walk down memory lane and look back at some of the great championship moments born in Boston.

1960: Boston’s first Frozen Four played in North America’s oldest ice arena

Today, Matthews Arena stands as North America’s oldest ice arena. Friday night, it will be the backdrop when the 2015 Hobey Baker Award is presented.

But 55 years ago, then-called Boston Arena became just the third arena to host college hockey’s championship outside of the Broadmoor Ice Palace (later known as the Broadmoor World Arena) in Colorado Springs, which hosted the first 10 championships.

Harry Cleverly’s Boston University team came into the tournament as the hometown favorite but ran into Murray Armstrong and his Denver club in the semifinals, the Terriers falling 6-4. Michigan Tech walloped St. Lawrence 13-3 in the other semifinal but lost to Denver in the title game 5-3.

It was the second title for Denver in three years and, under Armstrong, the Pioneers went on to win five national titles and reach 11 Frozen Fours in 21 years.

Of note, BU beat St. Lawrence 7-6 in the third-place game, the 50th game played in NCAA tournament history.

1963: Was this game really played in Boston?

Boston College’s McHugh Forum played host to the 1963 championship and often is left out when talking about Boston’s Frozen Four history. The reality is that the old McHugh Forum was located in Chestnut Hill, Mass., a village, not a city or town. Chestnut Hill is comprised of parts of Newton, the primary location of the BC campus, as well as Brookline and Boston.

By today’s standards, McHugh Forum, which was located next to the current Conte Forum, might be considered in Boston, particularly on a Boston College game night when Boston Police, not Newton Police, patrol Beacon Street outside of the arena. It’s not the best measuring stick, but short of going to the assessor’s office of the City of Boston, this is good enough proof to include 1963 in this story.

We can stay pretty brief in describing this one, however, as both semifinals were blowouts. Snooks Kelley’s Boston College team entered the tournament with the best record, only to be routed by North Dakota, coached by Barry Thorndycraft, 6-2 in the semis. Denver reached another final in Boston with a 6-2 win over Clarkson but it was the then-Sioux that pulled out the 6-5 victory in the title game for the school’s second national title.

1972-1974: Boston’s golden age as Frozen Four host

From 1972 through 1974, Boston hosted three consecutive Frozen Fours and, in doing so, brought the tournament to a new level.

For the first time in the tournament’s history, the event was played in an NHL arena, the Boston Garden, longtime home of the Boston Bruins.

The 1972 tournament in no way disappointed, with longtime ECAC rivals Boston University and Cornell qualifying for the field with up-and-coming WCHA rivals Denver and Wisconsin.

When asked what stood out to him most about the tournament, longtime Boston Herald college hockey scribe John “Jocko” Connolly said it had nothing to do with the hockey itself.

“I was just caught up in all the event itself. We had never seen the Western teams come in en masse with the fans all clad in team colors and bringing the big bands in,” said Connolly. “In those days, the only rinks used locally were Boston [Matthews] Arena and McHugh Forum.

“When you went to McHugh Forum, it was so small and it was mostly older season ticket holders. There was no environment, so it was like watching a tennis match.

“Then the Frozen Four came in ’72 and the Wisconsin people came in all the red colors and red cowboy hats and they were dancing in the aisle. It was wild. It was like Oktoberfest.”

Boston University defeated Wisconsin, coached by legendary coach “Badger” Bob Johnson, 4-1 in the semifinal. A day later, on St. Patrick’s Day, the ultimate ethnic holiday in Boston, Cornell knocked off Denver 7-2.

That set up the best geographical matchup tournament organizers could wish for as the hatred ECAC rivals — BU and Cornell — faced off in front of a record 14,995 fans, with BU emerging with a 4-0 win and the school’s second straight national title.

“On the ice, BU had a great team,” said Connolly. “Their power play averaged 41 percent and that’s the school record still.”

The 14,995 fans to watch that game remained the record for a single game until the 1985 title game when Rensselaer beat Providence in Detroit.

The 1973 tournament produced a rematch of the 1972 third-place game in the final as budding Wisconsin, having rallied from four goals down in the semis over Cornell, and powerhouse Denver faced off in what became a changing of powers, of sorts.

Denver had already won five titles but was in a four-year drought (it eventually stretched until 2004; see below). Wisconsin hadn’t won a title to that point but Johnson had the program going in a great direction and had all the necessary fan support.

When the game was tied in the second and Dean Talafous scored, Wisconsin had a lead it wouldn’t relinquish and the Badgers won their first of four national titles in an 11-year span.

“It was a real grudge match,” said Connolly. “Murray Armstrong was the coach of Denver and he was the legend. And Wisconsin was kind of the up-and-coming new kid. There was an undercurrent of a real rivalry.”

Longtime Boston Globe writer John Powers remembers traveling to interview Badger Bob years later, and that 1973 tournament was still prevalent on his mind.

“He still had that old, huge reel-to-reel film,” Powers said of Johnson. “He would put it up on the projector if you came by. And at the end when they won, you could hear the announcer screaming, ‘They’re going wild in Boston! They’re going wild in Boston!'”

A year later in 1974, it was local upstart Harvard, a team making its sixth NCAA tournament appearance yet without a semifinal win, that was the story Bostonians talked about. The Crimson, with a 17-9-1 mark, had to face the winningest team in tournament history to date, Michigan Tech, which entered 27-8-3.

It seemed a sure mismatch, but Harvard jumped out to a 3-0 lead. John MacInnes’ Michigan Tech team stormed back, however, and won 31 seconds into overtime 6-5.

Michigan Tech faced Minnesota, coached by “Miracle on Ice” coach Herb Brooks, in the title game after Brooks’ team, a slow starter and fast finisher that season, dominated Boston University from the start to reach the championship game.

In the final, it was Brooks’ once-overlooked Gophers that took home the title, the program’s first, with a 4-2 win.

The strangest part of the 1974 championship was the game after the title game that never came to bear. Officials from the NCAA and its Canadian equivalent had pre-arranged a match between the U.S. college champion and the Canadian college champion.

The problem was, no one ever told Minnesota. From the March 18, 1974, edition of the Minneapolis Star:

Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) was to have met the winner of the U.S. college championship this weekend for the North American college championship. But hopes for that game, the first of its kind, were destroyed when the University of Minnesota won the NCAA title by beating Michigan Tech, 4-2, Saturday night. Minnesota had earlier said they would not participate in such a contest.

1998: York’s young Eagles so close

After the long gap between Frozen Fours in Boston — the NCAA turned toward smaller buildings and the Providence Civic Center became the region’s host — the return was welcomed to a shiny, new building (the 17,565-seat FleetCenter was opened in 1995). Once again, the tournament featured a local team, this time an upstart Boston College team under coach Jerry York.

The Eagles hadn’t qualified for the NCAA tournament since 1991 and it was the first time the veteran coach York, who led Bowling Green to the title in 1984, had taken his BC club to the tournament. The Eagles had a first-round bye and routed Colorado College to get to the Frozen Four. And it was expected they would be joined by crosstown rival and tournament host, Boston University. But BU was upset by New Hampshire in the quarterfinals 4-3 in overtime.

Michigan and Ohio State both advanced to Boston by winning twice, each team having to win a first-round game before facing a team that had a first-round bye (North Dakota for Michigan and Michigan State for Ohio State) in the quarterfinals.

Most considered BC versus Ohio State a close match and Michigan against New Hampshire a game that heavily favored the Wolverines. So when Michigan and BC met in the finals, there was little surprise.

The surprise came in the drama created by the game. A 2-2 game into overtime, Boston College nearly ended its 49-year drought of national tournaments when Jamie O’Leary hit the crossbar in the extra session.

Ultimately, it was Josh Langfeld who snuck a shot along the ice short-side on Boston College goaltender Scott Clemmensen, a goal Michigan fans won’t forget and a goal for which many BC fans at the time couldn’t forgive Clemmensen.

“Everybody was critical of Clemmensen and everyone forgot he was a freshman,” Connolly said of the netminder who went on to lead BC to four straight Frozen Fours and, ultimately, the 2001 national title. “If you knew Clemm, he was a quiet kid from Davenport, Iowa. And as it turned out, he proved the skeptics wrong. Seventeen years later, he’s still in the NHL.”

The crowd of 18,276 for the title game was, at the time, the largest in tournament history. It has since been surpassed numerous times. The television audience of 1,893,290 still sits as the second-largest to watch an NCAA hockey tournament game, passed only by the 2002 title game between Maine and Minnesota in St. Paul, Minn.

2004: 129 seconds of fury leads to another Denver title

The 2004 Frozen Four was the last played in the current building under the FleetCenter name; it was renamed the TD Banknorth Garden in 2005 and eventually the current moniker, the TD Garden, in 2009.

The tournament was only the second in the 16-team era and the regionals hardly presented the upsets to which today’s tournament has grown accustomed. Three of the four regionals presented the top two seeds in the final while third-seeded Wisconsin’s win over second-seed Ohio State was hardly considered a shocker.

In the end, two top seeds — Boston College from the Northeast and Maine from the East — emerged along with Denver and Minnesota-Duluth, both second seeds, coming from the Western regions.

A thrilling 2-1 win for Maine over Boston College matched the Black Bears against Denver, a 5-3 winner over UMD, in the final.

Most of the game will be remembered for the incredible goaltending between Denver’s Adam Berkhoel and Maine’s Jimmy Howard. The two may have combined for only 43 saves but many were highlight-reel material.

It looked like Maine took an early lead when Derek Damon stuffed a rebound home in the first period. But that was one of a handful of years where instant replay could disallow goals if any offensive player had any part of his skate in the crease.

Video review, indeed, proved Mike Hamilton’s skate was barely in the crease for the Black Bears and the goal was waved off.

Denver’s Gabe Gauthier scored the game’s only goal later in the first period. At the time it was impossible to tell that Gauthier’s goal would be the lone tally. But it certainly wasn’t for lack of a harrowing finish.

With 2:09 left, Denver’s Matt Laatsch was called for holding. Thirty-five seconds later, with a flurry in the Denver zone, Gauthier picked up a loose puck and threw it to the neutral zone. He was whistled for delay of game.

Maine didn’t just have a five-on-three advantage. A pulled goaltender and extra attacker gave the Black Bears a rare three-man advantage.

Maine clinked a shot off the left post in the closing minute that may have left an unfixable dent. But Denver held on for the 1-0 win, the only by that score in the history of national title games.

Material from Jayson Hron’s “Historically Inclined” blog was used in this story.