It was St. Patrick's Night, but outside Boston Garden everything was red. Wisconsin Badger red. Three other college hockey teams came to the Garden—Cornell, Denver and Boston College—and each contributed bits of entertainment, but the Badgers stole the weekend. Yes, they won the NCAA championship, but they did something more. They created a mood that transcended the playing of games. At times it had overtones of Greek drama, with promise quickly dashed, valor in the face of doom, then hope—improbable, but there it was—and finally sweet victory, though that was anticlimactic to the many Wisconsin rooters present.
First, and unavoidable to anyone who was not blind or stone deaf, there was the Wisconsin fandom. You had to wonder who was left minding the store back in Madison. As play began, the Garden's moldering rafters were bedecked with more than 30 homemade signs, all pro-Wisconsin. A portentous one read: "On Boston ice the embattled Badgers swirled, and fired the shot heard round the world."
Boston College, for its part, was shot down before the tournament even began. Two of BC's high-scoring forwards were suspended in midweek "for an activity unconnected with hockey," as a TV announcer explained it. College spokesmen were no more illuminating, saying only that the players had "violated regulations." For whatever reason, BC was nervous in the locker room and collapsed on the first night before Coach Murray Armstrong's Denver team 10-4, leaving the stage to the Cornell-Wisconsin semifinal Friday night.
All the teams had been booked into the Copley Plaza Hotel, but at the last minute Cornell bolted to Cambridge. Maybe they have a secret, people said. Perhaps a new goalie—fearsome, hairy, superhuman. All their players are from Canada. Wild up there, you know.
In any case, something was bothering Wisconsin as the game began. The Badgers had beaten Minnesota 3-0 on the final day of the regular season to win the Big Ten championship, and then had defeated Minnesota again, and Notre Dame at South Bend, to qualify for the NCAA. Everyone expected big things from them. But now not even the world's most implacable cheering section seemed to be doing any good. Cornell scored at 40 seconds, then again eight minutes later. The Badgers were shooting wildly. In the second period Cornell was a swarm of bees at the Wisconsin goal, and within 30 seconds the score was 3-0. Wisconsin's shots were beautifully accurate; they hit every inch of the Cornell goalie, his pads and his stick. At 4:39 Cornell made it 4-0. No opportunity yet for the Wisconsin rooters' strangely ominous cry of SIEVE, SIEVE, with which they bombard an enemy goalie when he gives up a score. The game was half over, Wisconsin was desperate and playing sloppily, and a humbling defeat surely was at hand.
But suddenly the Badgers began to put on a display of clockwork precision. Cornell drew a penalty and was down a man. After nearly a minute of crisp, intricate passing, there was a crowd at the Cornell goal, a shot by Norm Cherrey, a score, and it was 4-1. Still, a mere fly bite. Then Wisconsin's Dennis Olmstead rapped one in and the place all but trembled with the fans' fervor as the second period ended 4-2.
Came the third period and half the Garden was intoning SIEVE. Cornell Goalie Dave Elenbaas looked tiny and very alone, but his team's shooting was much the stronger, its defense was working better and Wisconsin was getting pushed around. At 50 seconds of the third period Cornell made it 5-2. Cornell was tying up Wisconsin in close, so with 12 minutes left Gary Winchester shot from well outside, hit, and it was 5-3. How could the Badgers be but two goals down? Their passing was way off, and they couldn't hold onto the puck. Was it Wisconsin guts? SIEVE? The collective will of those enthralled fans? Now Cornell elected to throw the puck continually into Wisconsin ice and chase it, which seemed a reasonable strategy for a team with a two-goal lead. And Wisconsin was in a frustrated frenzy.
With six minutes left the puck lay briefly on the ice an inch from the Cornell goalie's glove. Two Wisconsin players hurtled toward the puck, but the glove beat them and a big chance was lost. In disorganized fashion Wisconsin's forwards were bringing the puck up the ice alone, then looking anxiously for someone, anyone, to pass to. By contrast, the disciplined Cornell forwards hit the blue line three abreast.
Wisconsin had something special going, though, a refusal to accept the obvious—that there was no way they were going to win the game. Three and a half minutes remained when Wisconsin's Jim Johnston scored, and now it was sure enough 5-4. It stayed that way for a while. A long while. The clock was down to 18 seconds when a Wisconsin shot headed for the goal, hit the post—and bounced away. Pandemonium. A Cornell player got the puck, tried to clear it, and Wisconsin's Olmstead intercepted. He passed to teammate Dean Talafous, and Talafous fired from point-blank range. Goal! The score was 5-5, there were five seconds on the clock and Wisconsin fans were all over the ceiling. Now would come only the fifth sudden-death overtime in 26 years of NCAA championship play.
Twice in the overtime Wisconsin Goalie Dick Perkins was defenseless as Cornell men charged in to shoot and each time he made the save. By the time only two minutes remained in the extra period both teams were rubber-legged and firing wildly. One Wisconsin player watched the puck bounce near him and couldn't even make a move for it. Then with 40 seconds to go the Cornell goalie saw three Wisconsin players bearing down on him. He came out to meet them. One of them, Olmstead again, passed to Steve Alley, who shot, and the puck rebounded to Dean Talafous. Having tied the game, that extraordinary young man, a sophomore out of Hastings, Minn, who is known as the Mad Stork, scored with 33 seconds left. That, you might say, was the shot heard round the world, the one the poster had prophesied. Wisconsin had won 6-5, and oh how the SIEVE freaks celebrated.
Of Cornell Coach Dick Bertrand it was later said, "His face as he walked off the ice was a composite picture of 5,000 orphans too late to catch the picnic steamboat."
Wisconsin Coach Bob Johnson made no speech of triumph. He merely said: "I'll tell you one thing. We'll be here tomorrow night."
Again, there seemed no reasonable way for Wisconsin to beat Denver. Its best line was 60 pounds lighter than Denver's. The Pioneers boasted two conference All-Stars and two All-Americas, Wisconsin none. And there was the Denver tradition: five NCAA championships and two seconds since 1958. Wisconsin had never won, and had just played a terribly taxing game. Denver, on the other hand, had enjoyed 24 hours more rest, after a laugher. So out came Coach Armstrong and his all-American boys, confident, and rested, and....
At 3:05 Wisconsin's Dave Pay scored. At this point it is sufficient to say that the Badger supporters did not forget their routine. And there was a new cry, "Let's go, Big Red," chanted six or eight times too often. Wisconsin was controlling the play. Perhaps the Badgers did have some adrenalin left over from the night before. Maybe Denver had overrested. Whatever the reason, Wisconsin was playing power hockey now, keeping the puck in enemy ice. Even so, true to the tenor of this wacky week, Denver scored twice to go ahead temporarily.
Jim Dool tied it for Wisconsin, though, and then that man Talafous came out of a jumble in front of the net and backhanded Wisconsin to a go-ahead goal. The score remained 3-2 until 2:10 of the third period, when Jim Johnston made it 4-2 Wisconsin. The Badgers got steadily stronger and quicker, and their passing was more accurate than on the previous night. Denver never had a chance. The Badgers were the new rulers of the collegiate ice.
A band of redcoats played On, Wisconsin. Outdoors it was St. Patrick's Night, and Boston was on the verge of changing colors.