Since the initial NCAA tournament in Colorado Springs in 1948, 72 programs have been crowned the best team in college hockey in the United States. Some obviously won more than others, while others are proud to be champions, even if it was just one time.
In the 1970s, while Flower Power and Disco began to take over the U.S., three programs began to dominate the college hockey scene. The dynasties of Denver, North Dakota and Michigan were passé. Now it was Boston, Wisconsin and Minnesota’s turn to make their marks in the game.
1970: Cornell University
Despite winning in 1967, the Big Red’s loss in the 1969 final stung, and with that, they lost Ken Dryden, the best player in program history. Even with many doubting the Big Red, they persevered in a big way.
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Brian Cropper took over in net, and filled the skates of Dryden admirably. He led the NCAA wins (29), goals-against-average (1.86 GAA) and save percentage (.921 SV%). Offensively, Cornell had four players with over 50 points, including 61 from defenceman Dan Lodboa. The All-American captain finished fifth in the country in scoring.
After winning the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference’s (ECAC) regular season and tournament championships, the Big Red went into the tournament with a 27-0 record. After squeaking by Wisconsin, the Big Red met Clarkson in the final.
The scoring went back-and-forth in the 40 minutes, with the game tied heading into the third period. Then, Lodboa exploded for a natural hat trick in a seven-minute span. His performance earned him the Most Outstanding Player honour, and the Big Red won their second championship in four years by a final score of 6-4.
Cornell finished with a 29-0 record, and are the only national champion to go undefeated.
1971: Boston University
Boston University had always been a competitive team in the ECAC, but had never won a national championship, despite making it to the championship game in 1950 and 1967. In the 1970-71 season, the stars aligned for the Terriers.
Boston came out with a 26-1-1 record, taking the ECAC regular-season crown. All-American Steve Stirling and John Danby led the Terrier attack, with Stirling leading BU with 70 points, and Danby scoring 64. The two finished third and fifth in the NCAA in scoring respectively.
The Terriers knocked off WCHA conference champion Denver in the semis to set up a meeting with Minnesota in the final. Boston opened the scoring with three goals in the first half of the contest, two of which came from Stirling. Even though Minnesota attempted to make a late comeback, the Terriers took home their first championship with the 4-2 win.
1972: Boston University
After the success of 1971, U.S. Hockey Hall-of-Fame coach Jack Kelley’s team was thirsty for more in 1971-72. While the Terriers were not the best team in the ECAC, their 22-4-1 record was still one of the best in the NCAA.
After Stirling graduated the year before, Danby and Bob Brown picked up the offensive slack. Both were All-Americans and led the Terriers with 50 points each. Dan Brady had himself another excellent season in goal. He was named an All-American after posting a 2.22 GAA, good for second in the country among goaltenders.
The Terriers made it into the tournament after knocking off regular season-champion Cornell in the ECAC conference championship game. They defeated Wisconsin in the semifinal to meet with Cornell for a third time that season.
Both teams had quality scoring chances, but Tim Regan held his own in the Terriers’ net, stopping all 39 shots he faced, becoming only the second goaltender to post a shutout in the championship game. Led by two goals from both Ron Anderson and Ric Jordan, Boston became only the third school to win back-to-back championships with a 4-0 win.
1973: University of Wisconsin
The Wisconsin hockey program was revamped in 1963, but struggled in its first few seasons. However, when Bob Johnson stepped behind the bench in 1966, all that changed. The Badgers made it to the tournament in the 1970 and 1972, but failed to make it to the championship game.
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Wisconsin’s 1972-73 success was an all-around team effort. The Badgers had no All-Americans on their roster, no players in the top-10 in scoring, but had the best record in college hockey. The Badgers finished with a 29-9-2 record, but their 18-9-1 record in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) placed them third in the standings.
The Badgers won the WCHA tournament, and faced Cornell in the semifinal. The Badgers overcame a 3-0 deficit to force overtime, before Dean Talafous sent Wisconsin to the championship game with the winning goal.
There, Wisconsin took on Denver. Despite the Pioneers outshooting the Badgers 34-29, Wisconsin’s Jim Makey shut the door. Talafous’ goal late in the second period ended up being the game-winner, and Wisconsin won their first national title by a score of 4-2.
1974: University of Minnesota
Before their 1971 national championship game appearance, the Minnesota Golden Gophers had not been in the tournament since 1961. Herb Brooks took over as head coach in 1972, but the team was not able to qualify for the tournament after a lackluster season. Yet, the Gophers had high hopes heading into the 1973-74 season.
However, Minnesota had poor start to the season, going 0-4-1. Then, the Gophers were able to put together six straight wins heading into December, and were back on track. The team went on to play .500 hockey the rest of the way, and finished second in the WCHA standings with a 22-11-6 record.
Offensively, the Gophers were not the most powerful team, with Mike Polich being the only player to eclipse the 50-point mark. Minnesota’s bread and butter was their defence, and goaltender Brad Shelstad holding the fort between the pipes. Shelstad’s 3.10 GAA was fifth-best in the country, while his .906 SV% was good for fourth among NCAA goaltenders.
Minnesota was able to make it to the tournament after being co-champions of the WCHA tournament, as they were able to knock off both Michigan and Denver. After upending Boston University in the semifinals, the Gophers met fellow WCHA co-champion Michigan Tech in the final.
Despite not beating the Huskies in the regular season, the Gophers handled Michigan Tech from start to finish. Led by John Sheridan and Pat Phippen’s goal and assist performances, the Gophers were able to capture the program’s first national championship by a final score of 4-2.
1975: Michigan Tech University
After the disappointment of losing in the championship game, John MacInnes’ crew was ready to get back to the tournament, in search of their first championship since 1965. Through American Thanksgiving, though, the Huskies were only 5-5, but won eight out of their next 10 before the New Year. The Huskies cruised the rest of the way and finished with a 26-10 record, one of the best records in college hockey.
The Huskies were led by a pair of centremen in Bob D’Alvise and Mike Zuke. The All-American D’Alvise led Michigan Tech with 84 points finishing third in the NCAA in scoring. Zuke ended the season with 78 points, good for sixth in the country.
After knocking off Notre Dame and Michigan State to win a share of the conference championship, the Huskies easily handled the ECAC champion Boston Terriers in the semifinal of the tournament. This set up a rematch of the championship game from the previous year with Minnesota.
In a complete 180 from the 1974 final, the Huskies dominated the Gophers on the scoreboard from start to finish. With the help of George Lyle’s two goals, and a goal and an assist from D’Alvise, Michigan Tech took home their third national title with a 6-1 victory.
1976: University of Minnesota
Even though they lost the year before, the Gophers were feeling confident about their chances heading into the 1975-76 season with a great mix of veteran and freshmen talent. Despite having a 28-14-2 overall record, the Gophers finished third in the WCHA standings, as they only went 18-13-1 in conference play.
Like most of Herb Brooks’ teams, the Gophers relied on timely scoring and excellent defence. Tom Vanelli led Minnesota with 69 points that season, while Jeff Tscherne and Tom Mohr were one of the best goaltending tandems in the country. Both Mohr and Tescherne finished in the top-five in GAA and SV%.
The Gophers had to win their way into the national tournament. After beating Colorado College, they had to go to triple-overtime to take down Michigan State to win a share of the WCHA conference championship. Similar to 1974, Minnesota had to go through Boston to make it to the final. This time, it was a lot more chippy, including an infamous bench-clearing brawl. Yet, the Gophers survived and moved on to meet the Huskies once again in the championship game.
It proved to be the closest, and wildest, of the three meetings. The Huskies went up 3-0 early in the contest, chasing Tscherne from the net. Yet, the Gophers bounced back, scoring four unanswered to take the led in the second period. After Michigan Tech tied the game at four, goals from Pat Phippen and Warren Miller put the game out of reach, and Minnesota won their second championship in three years by a final score of 6-4.
1977: University of Wisconsin
After winning the championship in 1973, the Badgers took a dip over the next few seasons. They failed to finish in the top-three in the WCHA, and, with head coach Bob Johnson taking a year hiatus to focus on the 1976 U.S. Olympic team, they finished below .500 for the first time in the program’s modern era.
Yet, the Badgers bounced back in a huge way in the 1976-77 season. The club went 29-6-1 during the regular season, and lost only one of their final 16 games. The Badgers’ attack was led by Craig Norwich, All-American Mike Eaves and a freshman Mark Johnson. The three of them combined for 244 points, with Norwich leading Wisconsin with 83 points.
After becoming the first outright WCHA conference champion (the tournament had co-champions since 1965), the Badgers met New Hampshire in the semifinal, and won a thrilling 4-3 game thanks to Eaves’ overtime heroics. For the fifth consecutive year, the national championship was going to be determined between two WCHA teams, as the Badgers met Michigan for the seventh time that season, this time in front of a Wolverine-partisan crowd at the old Olympia Stadium.
Wisconsin went out in front thanks to three first period goals, before the teams traded goals in the second period. Down 5-2 in the third, the Wolverines mounted a comeback, tying the game with just over five minutes to go. The momentum was well in favour of the Wolverines heading into sudden death, but Steve Alley scored just 23 seconds into overtime to capture the Badgers’ second championship of the decade.
1978: Boston University
The best way to describe the Boston Terriers of the late-1970s, is that they were the Buffalo Bills of college hockey.
The team had made it to the national tournament in four consecutive seasons under Jack Parker, who took over as head coach in the middle of the 1973-74 season. The sting of the defeats began to wear on a veteran team that had dominated the ECAC for most of the decade.
Boston had arguably their best season in school history in 1977-78. They started the season 21-0, and their only loss came to Yale in February. Even though the Terriers did not possess any All-Americans or leading scorers, their well-rounded attack took care of the competition. Mark Fidler and John Bethel led the Terriers, with Fidler scoring 65 points with Bethel right behind him with 63.
The Terriers made it back to the tournament as they were the ECAC regular-season champions. In the new extended format that was put in place in 1977, Boston had to go through both Providence and defending champion Wisconsin to face longtime rival Boston College in the final.
The Terriers had beaten the Eagles all three times in the regular season, outscoring them 28-13. This time, Boston College played a much tighter contest, earning a 2-1 lead in the first period. However, BU came back with four straight, and coasted off the 28-save performance from Jim Craig to win the school’s third title by a score of 5-3.
1979: University of Minnesota
After winning the 1976 national championship, the Golden Gophers were not-so golden, failing to win either the WCHA regular season or conference championships in the following two seasons.
In the final year of the decade, Herb Brooks’ boys had a respectable regular season, going 25-11-1, finishing second in the WCHA behind North Dakota. Steve Christoff led the offence for Minnesota, totaling 77 points, finishing ninth in the country in scoring. All-American Bill Baker was a solid two-way defenceman, finishing fourth on the team in points with 54.
With an at-large bid into the tournament, the Gophers went up against Bowling Green in the first round, knocking off the Eagles before sneaking past New Hampshire to return to the championship game. There, they met North Dakota – the two had met four times in the regular season, with each team winning twice.
The Gophers outshot and outplayed the Sioux for the majority of the contest, but North Dakota kept the game close. Christoff picked up a goal and an assist, while Neal Broten’s goal in the third sealed the deal. Thanks to the play of the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Steve Janaszak in goal, the Gophers won their third championship of the decade with a 4-3 win.
The 70s, once again, saw a select few programs stay at the top of the college hockey food chain. It created some great rivalries, and some exciting action. However, as we would see in the upcoming decade, the landscape would change, with more teams finding their way to the top than ever before.