Saturday, April 9, 2011
Tonight the University of Michigan Wolverines take on the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the 2011 NCAA championship final in an attempt to extend their record number of NCAA championships to ten. On the other side, Duluth is seeking it's first ever championship, having only reached the finals once before, a memorable four overtime loss in 1984, which still ranks as the longest championship final in N CAA history.
The championship was inaugurated in 1948, which went to Michigan over Dartmouth 8-4 in Colorado Springs, Colorado where it was held for the first ten years before it began to be held in a new location each year.
The first location other than Colorado Springs to host the tournament, and the first time the NCAA championship was held in Minnesota was at historic Williams (later Mariucci) Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis in 1958. Denver won the first of their seven championships, which is tied for second to Michigan's nine.
In 1966 the championship returned to Williams Arena where Michigan State won their first championship 6-1 over Clarkson. It was the third consecutive year when the championship was won by a team from Michigan, following Michigan and Michigan Tech.
Two years later the championship returned to Minnesota as Denver won again in 1968 when they shut out North Dakota 4-0 in Duluth, the first time it hosted the finals.
It would be 13 years before Minnesota would host the championship when it was once again in Duluth. Wisconsin defeated their rivals Minnesota 6-3 at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, the Bulldogs longtime home more commonly known as "The DECC" (pronounced "The Deck").
This brings us to 1989 when this weekend's host St. Paul, Minnesota first entered the picture when Harvard sent the home fans away disappointed when they defeated Minnesota 4-3 in overtime, often called one of the best games ever played. The game was held at the St. Paul Civic Center, which was opened in 1973 as home to the Minnesota Fighting Saints of the World Hockey Association.
On the occasion of the 2011 Frozen Four being held in St. Paul, the United States Hockey Hall of Fame has a display at this years tournament, which features jerseys from the various clubs who have won the championship in St. Paul. Sharp-eyed readers will recognize that each jersey is not from the specific season of the teams which won the championship, as the styles do vary in some cases from what was worn during each club's championship season.
Just two years later the Civic Center again played host to one of the all time classic finals in 1991. Northern Michigan and Boston University staged an epic final. Northern Michigan came back from being behind 3-0 to led big in the third period only to have BU, whose top line consisted of future NHLer's Shawn McEachern, Tony Amonte and Keith Tkachuk, come storming back with goal after goal after goal in the final eight minutes, including one with just 39 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game at 7. Both teams failed to score as overtime stretched on, including multiple shots off the pipes for both teams, when finally Darryl Plandowski scored in the third overtime to end the emotionally exhausting game and win the championship for Northern Michigan. BU coach Jack Parker summed it up afterwards. "That wasn't a hockey game out there tonight. That was something different."
As thrilling as the 1991 final was, the championships return to St. Paul was the opposite, as Lake Superior State University destroyed Boston University 9-1 in the last game hosted by the Civic Center, which was demolished to make way for the Xcel Energy Center, which was built as part of the effort to return NHL hockey to Minnesota in 2000 in the form of the Minnesota Wild.
The 2002 final in St. Paul was a wild affair indeed, as the hometown University of Minnesota returned to the top of the heap for the first time since 1979 in front of 19,000 rabid fans when they scored a last minute goal with an empty net to force overtime. Grant Potulny, the only player on the team from outside of Minnesota, caused an eruption of biblical proportions with his championship winning goal in overtime to give Minnesota the victory.
This year is the second time the Xcel Energy Center has hosted the final and the eight time it has been decided in Minnesota.
Today's featured jersey is a 2001-02 University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Jordan Leopold jersey as worn during the 2002 Frozen Four held in St. Paul, Minnesota. Leopold was also the recipient of that season's Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top college player in the United States.
This jersey also features the WCHA conference logo on the lower back hem and the 2002 Frozen Four tournament patch on the upper right chest.
The University of Minnesota is also the host school of this years Frozen Four.