Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Brawl that Sparked two Natty Champs

Dance Marathon: Terriers-Gophers 1976 Semis
The infamous NCAA semifinal brawl of 1976 was a proverbial thorn in the side of fiery young coach Jack Parker. It was a crucial factor in BU's loss to eventual champion Minnesota, and it gnawed at him constantly. That agonizing loss motivated Parker, Jack O'Callahan and the rest of the Terriers until they won their own title two years later. This ugly chapter in college hockey history was carefully dissected in the new book, Jack Parker's Wiseguys, excerpted below.


Thirty-three-year-old Jackie Parker walked through the Providence Civic Center tunnel to watch the warmups of a hockey game that would forever define his professional life.

It was the 1978 NCAA semifinals, today known as the Frozen Four, down in Providence, Rhode Island, an hours drive from his Boston home. Parkers Terriers were facing off against the top-seeded Wisconsin Badgers, the reigning national champions. Two weeks after his thirty-third birthday, Parker was coaching his fifth consecutive team to the NCAAs Frozen Four, an event he had never missed as a head coach. It was a string of success unfathomable today, and it created an untouchable sports record, like his hero Ted Williams.406 batting title.

But the flip side of that mind-blowing success for such a young coach was the raw frustration of four consecutive failures in those national tournaments, each to a Western school. Those losses were the equivalent of the NFL Buffalo Billsrecord of futility in the 1990s: both teams were champions of their conference, and both suffered four consecutive losses on the biggest stage in their sport. Boston Universitys conquerors read like a whos who of Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) powerhouses: one loss apiece to Michigan and Michigan Tech, and two to the dreaded Golden Gophers from the University of Minnesota. As Parker watched the current WCHA champion Wisconsin Badgers take their warmup laps in Providence, the hyper-competitive coach once again felt that bitter angst from those four NCAA losses. 

His mantra, spoken publicly and privately, was how “sick and tired” he was over the dominance of WCHA schools. Teams from that powerhouse conference had owned the NCAA tournament the previous five years. Over that span, not a single school from the East had even advanced to the championship game.

Two years prior, Parkers best team by far had been ambushed out
west by Herb BrooksMinnesota Gophers in the ugliest NCAA game of all time. The acrid taste of that awful defeat never left Parkers mouth, a game so violent—and in the opinion of BU fans, so despicable—that it threatened the sanctity of the national tournament. Parkers current captain, the irascible Jack OCallahan, was at Denver Arena for that NCAA debacle in 1976. He was a freshman who dressed, played, and fought like a warrior. Thirty-eight years later he remained spitting mad, literally.

“In Denver in 1976 we played Minnesota,” said OCallahan, “Terry Meagher was our captain and leading scorer. A little scrum by their bench, and their trainer spit in Terry Meaghers face. So Terry was kind of like, “Mother(p)ucker!” So now they start punching Terry and we all jump off our bench; it was a bench-clearing brawl.”

A fact check of the story reveals that a spitting incident did ignite the unraveling of the game at the seventy-second mark of the 1976 NCAA semifinal, but there is some controversy as to who spit on whom. There were two major reasons as to why the situation erupted: (1) the Gophersnationalistic fervor instilled by Brooks and (2) ancient construction of the penalty boxes in Denver.

The Terriers came into the 1976 NCAAs with the nations best record at 25–3, having just swarmed through the Eastern College Championships with five-goal victories in both the semis and finals. This was a team that, although it did not win a ring, still remains a source of pride within the annals of Terrier hockey. If BU hockey had a Mount Rushmore for excellence, two of the legends, juniors Mike Eruzione and Rick Meagher, Terrys younger brother, were playing together in their prime on that 76 club. Close observers call that squad the most talented BU team of all time.

“Jack Parker always said, you measure teams by winning national championships,” said Eruzione from his home in Winthrop, Massachusetts. “But we didnt. We were a wagon; we were awfully good. Of all my four years at BU, that was the best team.” This coming from a man who won Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) championships each year he played. “I might say we were the best team ever to play at BU that didnt win a national championship.”

None of BUs excellence in 1976 was a mystery to Minnesota coach Brooks, who had a controversial record in the WCHA for tactics that flirted with the dark side. His Gophers teams were known for flagrant physicality, politely referred to as “chippiness” in this often-brutal sport. Brooks, who four years later played the jingoism card to tear down the aura of the dynastic Soviet Red Army hockey legends, took careful note of the BU roster. It revealed that eight of the nine Terrier seniors were Canadian, and two of BUs best were named Meagher, with the French pronunciation “ma-HARR.”

BrooksGophers prided themselves on being not only 100 percent American but also being raised in the state of hockey itself, Minnesota. Brooks had seen film of BUs run to the NCAAs: their speed, their stick skills, their sheer offensive brilliance. But as all hockey people know, their sport is a two-headed coin: ballet on one side and brawn on the other. Brooks might not have had the players to compete in a footrace with the Meagher brothers, but he had the muscle to drag them into a ditch, to turn a finesse game into a nasty slugfest. It is known euphemistically in hockey circles as “will over skill.”

Brooksprimary attack dog was six-foot-two slugger Russ Anderson, whose stat line that year included two goals and an astounding 111 penalty minutes. Rick Meaghers older brother Terry wore the red “C” on the front of his jersey and the proverbial bulls-eye on his back. He led the Terriers with thirty goals that season and sparked their vaunted power play. If Brookstroops were to prevail in this NCAA semifinal, they had to neutralize BUs captain. The Gophersdutiful Anderson was sent off for cross-checking Meagher just forty seconds into that infamous game.

Violence resumed in the ensuing faceoff scrum. Opponents always share the hash marks at the faceoff circle, frequently jostling as they wait for the puck to drop: shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip, sticks crossing and uncrossing. Seventy seconds into this contest, push came to shove, lumber pounded on lumber—or in this case, a leg. In an effort to stifle the brewing storm, the refs whistled Meagher for slashing, which evened up the manpower. This is where Denver Arenas aging architecture became part of the story.

Not only did the penalty boxes have no side glass, but BUs box abutted the Minnesota bench. Terry Meagher, the man who had been targeted on Brooks chalkboard all week, was now eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy. Angry jeering ensued. “You F***ing Frog!” was the chorus, alluding to the supposed ancestry of the English-speaking native of Ontario. The maroon and gold Gophers were but a few feet away, howling epithets at their boxed in enemy. 

Then came the tipping point: an enraged Minnesota player spat into Meaghers exposed face, and spark hit powder. Meagher spat back, hitting Minnesotas trainer Gary Smith. Despite not wearing skates, Smith was one of Brooks' most intense soldiers. He went ballistic, firing a punch at the BU captain. Meagher, normally a peaceful man with a minuscule career penalty mark, answered in kind. The Gophers surrounded Meagher and began pummeling, which prompted the BU players to catapult their bench and Meagher to flee the penalty box. One stride out of the box, Meagher met up with Gopher enforcer Anderson. They attempted to settle their affair with bare knuckles. The old Denver barn became a stage for an old-fashioned donnybrook.

“We cleared our benches to protect Terry,” said OCallahan. “Everybody on the ice paired up beating the crap out of each other; it was like the movie Slapshot.” BUs sophomore scoring star Mike Fidler, who along with OCallahan hailed from the hardscrabble streets of Charlestown, endeared himself to all the pro scouts with his incessant brawling.

“It was a free-for-all,” said Eruzione. “Mike Fidler was just pounding people. Even our seventy-year-old trainer Tony Dougal was being challenged by a Minnesota kid—they almost went to blows. It was just insane.”

“Mike Fidler walked over and challenged the entire bench,” said BU goalie Brian Durocher, a sophomore at the time. “Im sure they had great tough players on the Minnesota team, but that was part and parcel for Mike, the Charlestown edge and all that. A minute and eight seconds into the semifinal game, it didnt make a lot of sense.”

Chaos reigned, and nearly a half hour of unmitigated brawling raged on. Finally the NCAA officials shut off the lights. With the combatants unable to see their counterparts, the melee finally petered out. But the controversy was far from over.

NCAA rules dictate that a player guilty of fighting is automatically ejected from that contest, and the ensuing game. That put the whole 1976 tournament in jeopardy, because there would be no one left to finish this last semifinal, barely a minute old. Michigan Tech had already beaten Brown in the other semi, and enforcing the rules would have given Tech a championship by default. A meeting was hastily called.

According to tournament reports from the Denver Post, game officials Dino Paniccia and Frank Kelley were joined by the on-ice officials from the first NCAA semifinal—Medo Martinello and Bill Riley, along with NCAA Hockey committee men: Dennis Poppe, Harvard coach Bill Cleary, former Boston College coach Snooks Kelley, WCHA head of officials Bob Gilray and NCAA ice hockey committee chair Burt Smith. The meetings final two members included the embroiled coaches—Brooks and the seething Jackie Parker.

An estimated half hour later they emerged with a solution—a flawed one according to many, but something that would allow the championships to continue: game misconducts to the original combatants only, Terry Meagher and Anderson. The remaining brawlers could play on. OCallahan remains outraged, if not objective, to this day.

“So theyre WCHA refs, they throw our leading scorer and captain out of the game, who did nothing, who was the most kind guy, he maybe had ten minutes in penalties all year, but this guy spits in his face. He throws Terry and some fourth line guy out of the game. So we lose our best player, and they lose nobody, and we kind of got screwed in the penalty distribution of it all because we cleared our bench first.”

BU lost its way and the game, 4–2, in an episode that no one involved from BU can ever reconcile. The 1976 assistant coach Toot Cahoon, two-time national champion as a player for the Terriers, has a thoughtful assessment of what went down. 

“When I step back from it and really analyze it,” said Cahoon a generation later, “whether or not it was ethical, it was a brilliant ploy by Brooks and his staff. The thing evolved into a perfect storm for them in that it took what I think is the best BU team of all time, and took them right out of their game.”

Parker was understandably furious, ripping Brooks during an inter- view with the Boston Globe: “No question they came out with the intent of running at us. It obviously is the coachs philosophy. He not only tolerates it, he condones it. Herb Brooks is known as Herb Bush in the WCHA and now I know why.”

The victim of the attack, Terry Meagher, is reticent when it comes to the topic of the Denver debacle. “It was gasoline ready to explode, and it did,” said Meagher from his office at Bowdoin College. “I just wish it didnt happen.” He left it at that.

Eruzione acknowledges what a bitter pill it remains. “Thats a game you dont talk about. Maybe its like how the Russians dont talk about our game against them,” said Eruzione, in a reference to the Lake Placid Winter Games.

The Denver brawl fueled a four-year cycle of anger and violence that manifested in Olympic Festival scraps and a scene in the movie Miracle, in which the OCallahan character fought the actor portraying Gopher Rob McClanahan (who incidentally was not yet on the Minnesota club that mugged BU). Eruzione found levity in that. “McClanahan never would have fought OCallahan,” said the former Team USA Captain. “They should have picked [Phil] Verchota, pick a tough kid. Robby never would have fought Jack. We kind of laugh about that.”

It took decades for Parker to get over the Denver episode, even after winning his own championship ring. Harvard legend Bill Cleary has been one of Parkers closest friends for half a century, despite their in-town rivalry. Cleary recalled how long it took Parker to recover from that game. “He was upset for years over that Minnesota game.”

Here in Providence, two years after that bitter NCAA loss to Minnesota, Parker was once again facing the WCHAs best, the lauded Badgers of Wisconsin. The reigning national champs featured the most star-studded lineup in the country. Parker prided himself on preparation, yet he entered this game woefully underprepared, coming off a three-day week in which he had to deal with the aftershocks of his wifes death and the ruptured lives of his five- and ten-year-old daughters. He took one last drag from his cigarette while he surveyed the players exiting as the Zamboni took the ice. The Civic Center was a sea of red from both Wisconsin and BU fans.

Enveloped by excruciating pressure and the prospects of an unbear- able fifth consecutive NCAA semifinal loss, Parker crushed out the smoldering butt and strutted with defiant confidence toward the BU locker room. He had a message that was certain to jack up his Terriers. His professional fate lay in their hands, their skates, and their sticks. They would have to find a way. 

Jack Parker's Wiseguys, on sale now.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Genesis of Animal House?

Bluto a Dartmouth Hockey Fan??
Dartmouth hockey fans were the perfect role models for John Landis' rowdy film project in 1977. Miracle Man Dave Silk found himself smack dap in the middle of the Dartmouth frat scene. This passage is excerpted from author Tim Rappleye's new book: Jack Parker's Wiseguys.  Tim, a Traverse City youth hockey referee, will be signing books and chatting hockey this Saturday, 3 pm at Horizon.  


The Terriersnext test was up in Hanover, New Hampshire, facing Dartmouth and their rowdy student fans in Thompson Arena. This was a game in which BUs fresh faces once again rescued the upperclassmen, and a Terrier veteran returned the favor.

A controversial incident occurred during the pregame, in which Silk obtained a DNA sample from one of Dartmouths most boisterous fans. Like so many other road buildings BU played in that year, Thompson Arena was a tempest of negative energy during warm-ups, with fans perched on top of the Plexiglas to make sure they could express themselves fully.

“All the Dartmouth frat boys are hanging over the glass,” said Silk. Keep in mind that the movie Animal House was in production at that moment, and director John Landis and the late writer Harold Ramis both stated that the lm was based on Dartmouth College and its raucous frat party life. The undergrads hanging over the glass on that December afternoon were essentially Animal House role models. At least one had obtained a roster and done enough homework to connect names with uniform numbers of the enemy players. And they desperately sought Silks attention.

“Were skating around, and the frat guys are yelling, ‘Hey Silk, hey Dave!And as I look up, he spits this big loogie in my face, all over me. So now Im thinking, that son of a . . .” 

Rather than stop and confront this real-life Bluto Blutarsky, Silk skated a tight circle around his zone, picking up speed like a Roller Derby villain, intent on getting even for the obscene injustice. Silk arrived just prior to another DNA deposit. “As I do a loop, I see the same guy yelling, ‘Hey Fidler, Fidler! Hey Mark!So I sped up.” Just as young Bluto puckered up to unload on the unsuspecting Fidler, he noticed a blunt object heading his way, with evil intent. Some- how the Blutarsky wannabe was sober enough to pull a Keanu Reeves Matrix dodge to avoid the heel of Silks Christian Brothers stick. “He saw me coming at the last minute,” said Silk, “and ducked down so my stick broke over the glass, not over his head.” The frat party on the glass immediately broke up, sans bloodshed but not controversy. “It might have glanced him,” conceded Silk, “but it certainly didnt hurt him.”

Silk added insult to psychic injury when he scored early at Thompson Arena, but BU had dificulty shaking the Big Green, who pounded thirty shots at BU netminder Brian Durocher. Coached by clever tactician George Crowe, Dartmouth held a 2–1 lead entering the final period. Thats when BUs freshmen stepped up once again with the game on the line. Daryl MacLeod got the tying goal early on a feed from Billy Cotter, and then Cotter banged home the winner with helpers from classmates MacLeod and Miller. BU secured the 3–2 victory, a game that could have easily gone sideways. It was Durochers first Division I win of the young season, and the Terriers were ready to steal away into the frigid New Hampshire night with two valuable points. Then the long arm of the law arrived.

Silk remembers being in his birthday suit when he was alerted. “Im in the shower, and one of the coaches says, ‘Dave, come out.And theres a couple of Dartmouth cops, and they want to press charges,” said Silk. “I remember Al Sidd, a friend of BU hockey, was there, and they're all huddled up with Jack Parker and the coaches.”

BU radio play-by-play man Artie Moher arrived at a scene he clearly didnt expect to see: Silk dripping wet, wearing only a towel, being questioned by men in badges. “Campus security was there,” said Moher, “and one of these kids claimed that Silk hit him with his stick. For a second we were thinking we might have to wait a little longer than we thought to get out of Hanover.” Fortunately, the Dartmouth athletic director saw what actually transpired and was a compelling witness. “Seaver Peters came down, and he pretty much put the blame on the students,” said Moher.

“There was a summit meeting outside,” said Silk. “One thing led to another, and it all went away.” After dressing, Silk was now free to get on the bus and head home with the rest of his teammates. As for his accus- ers? “Those knuckleheads were right out of central casting.”

There is no definitive record of Dartmouth AD Petersnext meeting with the frat boys in question and whether or not he uttered the phrase, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.” 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Casey Mittelstadt: In his Own Words

The Mighty Casey 
In the midst of a scintillating November series between Minnesota and Michigan at Yost Arena, Gophers freshman sat down with reporter Tim Rappleye

Rappleye: You just played in one of the greatest games in memory here in this old barn. What was it like from your perspective?
Mittelstadt: It was my first time here, it was pretty special to come out and play, obviously it was a great atmosphere with the student section and things like that. We’ve got to play a little better in the second half of the game, but it was definitely a cool atmosphere and a fun game.

Rappleye: How about for you, a freshman getting big minutes at the end, with the game on the line. This is your first go-round in the NCAA, you appeared to have a big battle level.
Mittelstadt: Coming in I try and bring the same compete level back home in school and at the USHL. It’s not too much different, just try and come out and make plays, play my game and see where it takes me.

Rappleye: Coach Lucia was surprised at your intensity, compared it to Kyle Rau.
Mittelstadt:. He’s very good with me. Growing up watching him (Rau) helps a lot, I got to watch him since he was in pee-wees and bantams. That’s definitely special being compared to a guy like that and try and carry on in his shoes.

Rappleye: Minnesota and Michigan are two of the great hockey states in America. I know you’ve played summers in Plymouth at the World Junior Showcase, what other experiences have you had in Michigan?
Mittelstadt: I came out here for a couple of weeks, played a couple USHL games with the (NTDP) program before I went to Worlds, so I was there for a little bit. I’ve been here the last two summers with the World Junior camp, so I got to know Plymouth pretty well I guess, it’s been pretty fun seeing what it’s like. The World Junior camp is the middle of summer, and the stands are full, it’s a pretty special place and it’s definitely a good atmosphere.

Rappleye: On the topic of World Juniors, once the first half of the college season is complete, the odds are you are going to be an important point producer for Team USA. Does that cross your mind at all?
Mittelstadt: Not really. At this point we’ve got to come out and get some wins back here with Minnesota. It’s important to get a good start and I think for us we’re starting to get rolling, making plays and play how we want. I’m definitely focused on being with Minnesota right now, and when time comes, I’ll be ready for that.

Rappleye: There’s one cherry on top of the Sundae, the outdoor game versus Canada. Have you played in some big outdoor games in the past?
Mittelstadt: I played in Hockey Day in Minnesota last year, that was outdoors in down in Stillwater, Minnesota. That was a pretty big deal in Minnesota. Hopefully if I make it there (Buffalo) it probably won’t compare, it will be pretty special.

Rappleye: Do you remember watching Sid Crosby’s winning goal in that first Winter Classic back in snowy Bufffalo? Because you’ll be playing in that same venue.
Mittelstadt: I’m probably the biggest Crosby fan you’ll ever find, so yeah, I have definitely seen that, it will be special to go out, especially to play against Canada in that big game on New Year’s Eve. I’ve watched that since I was a young boy, being able to go out and play in that will be something cool and will cherish it.

Rappleye: You have a lot of new fans in Buffalo since the NHL draft. You spent time at the NHL Combine there. Have you sampled the culture, the Buffalo wings? What’s your memory of Buffalo and your thoughts about the city?
Mittelstadt: Actually, my earliest memory of Buffalo was really just to fly in there when we’re going to Toronto and spend the night. I’ve had some of the wings, I’ve been around to a few places, I think the Anchor Bar was the first one I went to. I’ve been there, been to development camp, not too much, but I’ve seen a little bit. Everything I’ve seen I’ve liked.

Rappleye: People outside of Minnesota want to know what’s the secret sauce that keeps you guys playing together, keeps you guys in High School rather than jumping to the USHL full time. The camaraderie in the room, it seems like it carries over here at the U. Can you help our readers understand what’s so special about the Great State of Hockey?
Mittelstadt: I think the main thing is you play with the same kids since you’re a really young guy. For me, I got to know some of these guys on the team playing fall and summer teams and you kind of bond, you’re all from Minnesota, you’re all playing for your high school and understand each other. My teammates last year were the same teammates I’ve had since I was five, six. So for me, they’ve been my best friends my whole life, getting to grow up and play with them is something pretty cool.

Rappleye: I thought you being a freshman at Minnesotan would bring a lot of pressure, but there have been contributions from other freshman. Does it help to have other freshman share the burden?
Mittelstadt: If I come in with pressure, I’m not scared of it, I’ve grown used to it. You get really close to the freshmen, we all live in the dorms together, we all know each other really well, so any time you see them doing well it’s a huge boost and it makes you want to play harder.

Rappleye: In the winter, Minnesota becomes the land of 10,000 frozen lakes. How much pond hockey did you play, and do you still play?
Mittelstadt: I have a rink in my back yard, my dad always put up, I’ve played endless amounts of pond hockey, some really late nights. That’s one of the main reasons it got me to love hockey, playing back there with my buddies and my brothers. I’ve been out there as much as anyone, if not the most probably. I loved it growing up.

Rappleye: There are stories about 2 a.m. games in your back yard.
Mittelstadt: I think I got really lucky my parents would let it happen, and my neighbors would be OK with it, they all had kids and some of them played hockey so they kinda understood when the boards are banging at 2 a.m. I got lucky I got some good buddies who loved it as much as me. When you’re out there you lose track of time, just having fun. It’s some of the best memories growing up.

Rappleye: I understand your parents are not typical hockey parents. Is that true they never played the game?

Mittelstadt: It’s pretty nice, I don’t get too much pressure from them. My dad skated growing up with his buddies, but never played. I come home, I played terrible, my parents say ‘Good Game.’ It was perfect for me, a perfect situation growing up.