Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Back in 1979, the NCAA tournament consisted of a mere five teams and the final games were played at the Olympia Stadium in Detroit, Michigan.
The single elimination tournament began with a single quarterfinal game on March 18th at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, pitting the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, coached by the legendary Herb Brooks, against the Bowling Green State University Falcons and their star players George McPhee and Mark Wells, who were second and fourth in the nation in scoring that season. Minnesota had placed second overall in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) while Bowling Green had won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) by a wide 12 point margin in their 24 game schedule.
Minnesota came away with a 6-3 win, advancing to face the University of New Hampshire Wildcats in the first semi-final on March 22nd in Detroit. New Hampshire had placed second overall in the Eastern Collegiate Hockey Association (ECAC) and was led by Ralph Cox's 42 goals, which led the nation that season. Minnesota again triumphed by a 4-3 score to reach the National Championship Final.
In the other semifinal in Detroit on March 23rd, the Dartmouth College Big Green, fourth in the ECAC, was paired against the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux, the WCHA regular season champions, who were led by Mark Taylor and Kevin Maxwell who tied for fourth and sixth in the national scoring race. The Fighting Sioux dispatched Dartmouth 4-2, making for an all-WCHA finale.
The championship final, held on this date in 1979, saw North Dakota and Minnesota come into the final game having split their four previous meetings earlier that season 2 games apiece. Minnesota was leading the contest 3-2 when Neal Broten scored a goal for the ages. Broten came up the left side of the ice, crossed the blueline into the North Dakota zone and made a cut toward the middle of the ice. As he did, the puck went to the right of the North Dakota defender facing him and Broten went around him to his left.
Having avoided that defender, Broten had also lost control of the puck, which was now several feet in front of him. At the same time, Broten was hit in the back by a backchecking Fighting Sioux player. The combination of the hit and that player's stick in front of him, as well as simply an effort to reach the escaping puck propelled Broten forwards and down onto the ice.
As he swung at the puck with his arms fully extended, he made contact with the puck in a position not unlike a curler sending a stone down the sheet, with his left leg folded under him and his right fully extended behind him. While this was happening, the goaltender for North Dakota was coming out to attempt cut down on the angle and began falling to the ice sideways in an effort to block the puck.
Broten, now having finished falling all the way to the ice on his side, began to roll onto his back as his chip shot took flight and cleared the goaltender, landing in the net for a 4-2 Gopher lead.
North Dakota would later score another goal to pull within 4-3, but the lead would stand and Minnesota would win the national championship on Broten's miraculous goal, which had now become the game winning goal, a moment now memorialized with a banner that hangs in the Gophers new Mariucci Arena.
The championship was the third for Minnesota under the guidance of Brooks, having previously won titles in 1974 and 1976. The roster for Minnesota that season was led by the team's leading scorer Steve Christoff, fourth in the nation in goals with 38 and ninth in points with 77, and Don Micheletti, who had 36 goals for fifth in the nation and was second on the team with 72 points. The rugged Micheletti's 112 penalty minutes also ranked third in the nation. Goaltender Steve Janaszak was named as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament.
For the Gophers, coach Brooks, Broten, Christoff, Janaszak, Bill Baker, Rob McClanahan, Mike Ramsey, Eric Strobel and Phil Verchota would go on to form the nucleus of the 1980 United States Olympic Team, which would defeat the Soviet Union 11 months later in the "Miracle on Ice" in Lake Placid, New York before capturing the gold medal against Finland.
Today's featured jersey is a 1980-81 University of Minnesota Neal Broten jersey. Broten wore #14 as a freshman with Minnesota in 1978-79 when he scored the game winning goal in the national championship game. On his return to Minnesota, following the year spent with the United States Olympic team in 1979-80, Broten reclaimed the number 7 that he wore in high school while playing in his home town of Roseau, Minnesota.
Oddly, now playing with his brother Aaron on the roster, instead of going with the expected and customary "N. Broten" to differentiate the brothers, they both wore their full names on the back of their jerseys despite their first names starting with different letters.
Neal Broten would be named the first winner of the Hobey Baker Award at the conclusion of the season in which he wore today's featured jersey.
If you would like to purchase one of these jerseys for yourself, or any of a number of other throwback Minnesota Golden Gophers jerseys, they are available from our friends at VintageMinnesotaHockey.com.
Today's video highlight shows history repeating itself, as Blake Wheeler, now of the Boston Bruins, would duplicate Broten's diving, game winning goal against the very same North Dakota Fighting Sioux, this one in overtime of the championship game of the WCHA Final Five in 2007.