U wins third hockey crown

by Cindy Dickison

DETROIT — “Well,” said a Minnesota hockey player Sunday morning. “I guess we got Herbie off the hook.”
That understatement was made in a satisfied, but considerably calmer, tone than the one of utter jubilation that prevailed the night before — when the Gophers proved Herb Brooks right by “winning it all.”
And the confrontation that ultimately brought the Gophers’ No. 1 ranking full circle was a classic. Minnesota faced, for the seventh time this season, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux — the team that had taken the season’s final game against Minnesota and thus the WCHA championship.
The bitter taste of that game three weeks ago was still in the Gophers’ mouths Saturday; they chomped at the bit at the prospect of working over their rivals. Once past a struggle with Eastern champion New Hampshire on Thursday, there was no stopping Minnesota. Another title would not be lost to the Sioux.
“We knew everything about them … they knew everything about us,” said Gopher goalie (and tournament Most Valuable Player) Steve Janaszak. “They won one very important game (for the league title).
“Revenge did enter into it.”
Revenge, and pride. Aside from the peripheral aspect of an all-west final, it was American — and above all, Minnesotan — pride that was on the line.
The Gophers, in winning their third national title in six years, became the third team to win with only American athletes. The other two were the other Minnesota champions.
And of course, with all Minnesotans. “Look Ma, no Canadians.” “Minnesota, the homegrown team: 100% natural ingredients. Accept no substitutes.” “All Minnesotans vs. 14 Canadians, 7 Minnesotans and 1 North Dakotan.”
The banners hung by fans around the ancient Olympia’s balcony capitalized with relish on the Gophers’ main claim.
But the Sioux fans needed no banners to tell them of Minnesota superiority. It was quickly established and never really relinquished down to the last seconds of the 4-3 victory.
It wasn’t the Gophers’ best game of the season (the March 18 6-3 playoff win against Bowling Green, which allowed the Gophers to become a part of the elite final four, had that distinction). But it was a contrast to the lethargic semifinal win of two night before that prompted many of the meager crowd (2,734) to admit Minnesota was lucky.
Brooks was more direct. “We stunk,” he hissed. “Absolutely stunk. That’s our worst game in a month (encompassing 2-1, 6-3 playoff wins over Duluth).
“They’re lucky to come to the national finals, and then they play like that. The only thing consistent about this team is its inconsistency.”
But one player who had been a paragon of consistency throughout the demanding the demanding weeks of playoff hockey, goalie Janaszak, was Minnesota’s trump card.
Janaszak weathered a 37-shot attack and made some outstanding saves to keep the frustrated Wildcats at bay. “He held us in there,” Brooks said. And Warren Strelow, Gopher goalie coach, appraised him as “the best college goalie in the country right now. He won it for ’em.”
Janaszak did get help from Eric Strobel, who picked an opportune game in which to let loose his unmatched skating abilities and his scoring touch. Strobel added a hat trick to Steve Christoff’s game-opening goal (at the 35-second mark) to open a few Eastern eyes.
“I felt real confident,” Strobel said. “God, their defense — well, I could just skate and skate and skate to open ice, and go for it.
“There were a few lucky ones. A few shots, a few goals. The first two were a little easy. But it was enjoyable.”
And so was the knowledge that the season’s last game could mean a championship for the Gophers. Did it seem real?
“Man, it does,” Strobel said. “It’s the difference between a ring and T-shirt.”
The Gophers would be taking finger measurements 48 hours later after wearing out an already slightly tired North Dakota team.
Christoff again scored the opening goal on goalie Bill Stankoven, and Minnesota went up 2-0 when John Meredith scored his second goal of the season. “I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I’ve been working on shooting into the upper-right-hand corner, and when that’s where it went, I had to look hard at it.”
While the Sioux were on a 4-3 power play, North Dakota defenseman Bill Himmelright dribbled the puck past a prone Janaszak to cut the lead with three minutes remaining in the first. but captain Bill Baker (recently named an All-American) gave the Gophers a bigger cushion with 38 seconds remaining in that period. Freshman Neal Broten’s assist (his 50th) on Baker’s goal broke a 25-year-old record for most assists in one season.
The Sioux fans became restless, then, and pleaded with coach Gino Gasparini to reinstate the league’s top goalie, Bob Iwabuchi, who apparently had been worn out in the Sioux’s 4-2 semifinal win over Dartmouth. The move proved effective as the Gophers were shut out in the second period, while North Dakota got a goal late in that period from freshman scoring leader Kevin Maxwell.
Broten broke in with three minutes gone in the third period, drew Iwabuchi out to the slot with his shot and the puck glanced off the prostrate goalie’s back and into the net for the Gophers’ final tally.
The lead remaining safe until Marc Chorney scored on a slapshot with 10 minutes left. There was to be no more scoring, but plenty of opportunities. Freshman defenseman Mike Ramsey (voted to the all-tournament team for his outstanding play) had the best Gophers chance in the last tense minutes. And until Janaszak came up with some tough saves in the waning moments, it was nearly a tossup between Ramsey and the Gophers goalie for the MVP honors.
But Janaszak’s reward was richly deserved, and when a Gopher defender sent the puck out of the Minnesota zone as the clock ticked down, the Gophers couldn’t wait to celebrate.
And a portion of the improved crowd of 7,011 joined them at center ice for the climax to what could possibly be called Minnesota’s most exciting season (32-11-1) ever.
“I felt we did it as a team,” Janaszak said. “If they have to name an MVP, as far as I’m concerned, I’m on an MVP team.”
“We’ve got the best set of defensemen, the best set of forwards in college hockey,” he said.
One of those forwards, senior Phil Verchota, said, “I felt pretty nervous during the day. I felt confident that we could do it, but on the other hand, I knew we’d have to play good hockey. They’re a good hockey club. “There were changes along with the momentum,” he said. Then they got that one goal back, and you could really feel it on the bench. Something just slipped.
“But that fourth goal (Broten’s) got everybody flying.”
And that same frame of mind, naturally, became post-game pandemonium. Brooks finally had the chance to relax, but he couldn’t. He wanted to talk about the team he never really lost faith in.
“They beat a hell of a hockey team,” he acknowledged for openers.
Then he addressed the matter of his season-opening braggadocio.
“I put the most pressure on any team ever by saying they could win it all,” he said. “Some people laughed at that, said you should make peace with your hockey club.
“But then,” he smiled, “I say a lot of things other coaches don’t say.”
NCAA All-Tournament Team: Steve Janaszak, goalie (Gophers); Howard Walker, defenseman (North Dakota); Mike Ramsey, defenseman, (North Dakota); Steve Christoff, forward (Gophers); Eric Strobel, forward (Gophers); Mark Taylor, forward (North Dakota). MVP — Steve Janaszak