It remains the longest NCAA men’s hockey championship game ever played: Bowling Green 5, Minnesota Duluth 4, in four overtimes, on March 24, 1984, at the Olympic Ice Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y.
As the two teams reacquaint themselves Saturday afternoon, 350 miles and 35 years later, at the Midwest Regional semifinal in Allentown, Pa., few, if any, who witnessed that title game thriller that will ever forget it. (I know I won’t, because I was there, a student reporter covering the game for the UMD Statesman newspaper).
That the two teams even made it to Lake Placid and the rink made famous by the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team’s “Miracle on Ice” triumph was a testament to resilience and courage.
Minnesota Duluth, having won its first WCHA regular-season and playoff titles during the season, hosted Clarkson in a two-game, total-goal series. The Bulldogs won the first game handily, 6-2, then had to withstand a furious Clarkson comeback in the third period of the second game, eventually losing 6-3 but advancing to the national semifinals, on total goals by 9-8.
Bowling Green of the CCHA traveled to play Boston University in Boston, and dropped the opener 6-3. The Falcons rallied to win the second game 5-1, which went three overtimes to break a total-goal tie. Bowling Green won that 8-7.
The national semifinals featured two showdowns between conference rivals, North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth of the WCHA, and Bowling Green vs. Michigan State from the CCHA. The Bulldogs tipped North Dakota 2-1 in overtime on Thursday night when winger Bill Watson knocked a puck past North Dakota (and future North Stars) goalie Jon Casey.
The victory gave delirious Duluth fans — many of whom arrived on the student bus shortly before game time because of delays caused by a blizzard en route to upstate New York — a day to recuperate, do a little sightseeing in Lake Placid, watch UMD defenseman Tom Kurvers win the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s best college hockey player, and wait to find out who the opponent for the championship game would be.
It turned out to be Bowling Green, a 2-1 victor over Michigan State on Friday night.
Back and forth
In the championship game, Falcons defenseman Garry Galley opened the scoring at 5:58 of the first period, only to see Mark Baron answer for the Bulldogs 20 seconds later. Watson scored on a power play for the only goal of the second period, and when Bob Lakso scored on a breakaway 47 seconds into the third period, the Bulldogs had a 3-1 lead.
A power-play goal by Jamie Wansbrough brought the Falcons within a goal four minutes later, before Tom Herzig restored UMD’s two-goal cushion for the Bulldogs with about 10 minutes left. Bowling Green answered back quickly with a goal by Peter Wilson less than a minute later, and the Falcons, who outshot the Bulldogs 39-21 in regulation, pressed hard for the equalizer.
That goal game with just 1:47 remaining, when a shot into the UMD end bounced off the boards behind the net and deflected past goaltender Rick Kosti, who was attempting to play the puck. Bowling Green’s John Samanski won the race to the loose puck and knocked it in to send the game into overtime.
“The tying goal is what I remember most vividly,” then-Bulldogs coach Mike Sertich recalled. “The freaky bounce off the dasher board that glanced off the side of the net and laid there with Kosti behind waiting for it. It seemed like time just stood still.”
On to overtime
That set the stage for a high-pressure goaltending duel between the diminutive freshman goaltenders, the 5-9 Kosti for UMD and 5-5 Gary Kruzich of Bowling Green. Neither team played cautiously, and good scoring chances were plentiful. Kruzich, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, made 15 of his 32 saves in the overtime periods, several from point-blank range, including one from the slot by Matt Christensen during the first overtime that I was certain was going to be a game-winner. Kosti stopped 55 shots total for the game, a record at the time.
The final shot that Kosti couldn’t stop came off the stick of Gino Cavallini at 7:11 of the fourth overtime. Falcons forward Dan Kane entered the UMD zone and found Cavallini with a pass behind the Bulldogs defensemen. Cavallini cut to the right in front of Kosti, sliding the puck into the net before the goaltender could react.
Cavallini’s momentum carried him to the sideboards, where he flopped onto his back and immediately was covered by delirious teammates, who celebrated Bowling Green’s first national title. The dejected Bulldogs players slumped in front of their bench. Sertich eventually walked down to the end of the rink and stood against the end boards watching the Falcons celebrate.
“The emotional realization that we lost,” Sertich recalled in a text message. “The empty feeling in the locker room after. The numbness. The lack of not finding the right words to say.”
Eventualy, UMD championships
The Bulldogs made it to the NCAA semifinals the following season, only to lose another excruciating multi-overtime game, this time to eventual champion Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. It took a few years, but Minnesota Duluth finally would win a national championship in 2011 and then added another last season.
The 2011 title team included Watson as an assistant coach, and brought a lot of joy to the members of that 1983-84 team that had come so close.
“The ’83-84 team was special and still remains that way today,” Sertich texted. “The guys are close. They stay in touch with each other. We had a reunion a few years back and nearly all returned. Incredible that bound they created is still so solid today.”