On the surface, the semesters would seem dull at the University of Denver, for the football team has never played in a major bowl game, after 22 years the basketball team has yet to win a Skyline Conference championship, and the baseball team last won a district championship 12 long years ago. What then do the 6,000 students at the University of Denver have to concern themselves with? Firing the football coach? That more or less takes care of itself. In 59 years of football a new coach has strolled onto the campus at an average of once every 2.5 years.
No. Denver has its skiing team, which has won four national championships in the last six years. It also has a swimming team, which has splashed to victory in 53 of its last 60 meets. But most of all, it has its hockey team, which last week in Boston's frigid Arena won its second National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship in only its second try.
After Denver had slapped home two goals in the last 63 seconds to beat Michigan Tech 5-3, just about everyone was calling the Pioneers the finest collegiate hockey team ever assembled. Throughout a season which began two days after Thanksgiving, Denver seemed to be moving over the ice on jet blades. The team finished its regular season with 23 wins, four losses and three ties. Included in the record were tune-up games with the Olympic teams. Denver beat the U.S. 7-5, then tied it 5-5. The Denverites also won over Germany 6-1, Sweden 5-3, and tied Russia 2-2.
In the western playoffs earlier this month Denver defeated Colorado College and thus joined Michigan Tech (which had administered three of Denver's four defeats), St. Lawrence and Boston University in the championship-round play in Boston.
On Friday Denver met Boston University, a team that many thought Denver would handle quite casually. But BU got a superb goal-tending job from Harry Urbanski and trailed Denver by only 5-4 with four minutes left in the game. Methodically Denver moved back and protected its own goalie, George Kirkwood, as fiercely as a mother bear defends her cubs. A minute later Denver's Conrad Collie slipped forward to slash home a goal and Denver moved to the finals to meet Michigan Tech, which had humiliated St. Lawrence 13-3 two days earlier.
On Tuesday, four days before the championships, Denver's coach, 43-year-old Murray Armstrong, had confidently called Boston's Kenmore hotel to arrange a victory celebration to begin immediately after Denver had won its championship. But Michigan Tech had some thoughts of victory itself. During a break in the first period, with Denver ahead 2-0, a voice on the public address system announced, "All fans and friends of Michigan Tech are invited to the victory celebration at the Kenmore." Whose victory he didn't specify, but in the second period, Michigan Tech made moves to insure its sponsorship of the party. Two minutes and 10 seconds apart, Tech scored goals. It added another with a minute of the period left to go ahead 3-2.
Shortly after the third period began, Denver's 22-year-old defenseman, George Konik, gathered the puck near his own cage and with two forwards as decoys started driving up ice. He slapped a rising 25-foot shot that caught the upper left-hand corner of the net. Denver had tied the game 3-3 with only two and a half minutes of the third period gone.
Sixteen minutes after that Denver scored what was to be the winning goal when John MacMillan, its fast-skating 23-year-old captain, took a pass from Defenseman Marty Howe and fired a clear shot at Michigan Tech's goalie, George Cuculick, who made a save. MacMillan swooped down on the rebound and loosed another shot at Cuculick, which struck the goalie on the arm before caroming into the net.
Michigan Tech pulled Cuculick out of the nets to give Michigan Tech six functioning forwards, but Denver's MacMillan found the open cage, with 12 seconds remaining, and Denver had its championship. Immediately two Denver undergraduates jumped onto the ice and hoisted aloft a red and yellow banner which read, DENVER UNIVERSITY, 1959-60 NCAA CHAMPIONS—a banner that obviously had been ordered well in advance.
Some others at Boston were not quite so pleased with Denver's victory and felt that more than the banner—perhaps the team itself—had also been ordered well in advance. Thirty-three of the 35 players on the rosters of Denver and Michigan Tech were either born in Canada or got their hockey training there. NCAA hockey coaches who objected to the lineups were not against Canadians because they were foreigners but because they had been snapped up by Denver and Tech teams from the tough, professional (maximum pay $75 a week) Junior A hockey in Canada. Junior A is about equivalent to Class D baseball in the U.S. and serves similarly as a collection of farm clubs for the professionals. The coaches of 24 hockey-playing colleges voted 19-5 for a proposal that players who had competed in a league that paid any of its players be made ineligible for play in the U.S. The recommendation will now go to the chairman of the collegiate rules committee for action. But before serious action is taken, the rules committee will probably remember where next year's championships are to be played—in Denver.