Looking Back at Milwaukee
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
The last time the Frozen Four was in Milwaukee was 1997, and it featured the best Frozen Four game I've ever seen. Granted, this only goes back to the early '90s, so take that for what it's worth. But the NCAA semifinal between Boston University and Michigan will always stand out for its intensity, skill, atmosphere, drama and emotion.
Ultimately, the game was won by the Terriers, 3-2, in what was considered a big upset. North Dakota went on to win the national championship, defeating BU, 6-4.
One year earlier, Michigan had thumped BU on the way to a national championship. A slew of big-name juniors all stayed for their senior year, and the Wolverines were a juggernaut in the 1996-97 season, ranked No. 1 nationally almost from start to finish. That team featured Brendan Morrison, Bill Muckalt, Jason Botterill, Blake Sloan, Matt Herr, Marty Turco, Warren Luhning and John Madden. It had seven 20-goal scorers. In a word, it was stacked.
But BU wasn't coming in to be fodder for the Wolverines, especially when you consider that, at that time, the most recent program to win back-to-back national championships was BU, in 1971 and 1972. BU coach Jack Parker, who was an assistant at that time, wasn't hearing any of the talk that had already anointed Michigan the 1997 champs. In Parker's eyes, BU is a prominent national program too, and deserved more respect.
The feeling going into the game was that, if anyone was going to knock off Michigan, it would be BU. The Terriers' program was at a peak then, too, just two years removed from a national championship of their own, and on a streak of Frozen Four appearances (it hasn't made one since).
The Terriers featured Chris Drury (who would win the Hobey one year later, following by an NHL Rookie of the Year award) and Shawn Bates.
The crowd at the Bradley Center that day was also festive, with the competing bands, and a lot of locals who were into the games. It made for a great mix.
The BU game plan was clear early — hit the snot out of Michigan. Stand up to the big boys and go toe-to-toe. Even after Michigan scored a goal to take a 1-0 lead, BU stuck to the plan.
"We were going into the game thinking BU would come out hard, and they sure did," said Ritchlin. "It was an amazing game. It was one of the fastest games I've been in, and you look at that game, considering everyone who played in it, and you have a lot of respect for college hockey."
Ultimately, what stands out was a first period filled with some of the most ferocious, good, clean hitting I've seen in a college hockey game.
A center-ice collision between Morrison and Drury, two guys who would eventually be named Hobey Baker winners, stands indelibly etched in time. As does a collision in the corner when BU freshman Dan Lacouture delivered a huge blow to Michigan senior Jason Botterill. It was two big boys just going toe-to-toe, and it was riveting.
"Lacouture killed Botterill. It was such a huge hit, and I think that really got them going," Ritchlin said. "And Drury had a big hit on Morrison at center ice. You talk about two teams that were ready to go at each other, that was a game where two teams had a lot to prove, and I think both coaches had the teams revved up pretty good."
BU scored three straight goals, including two from a Finnish import who came to the team in mid-season, Tommi Degerman. Michigan tried to rally late, getting a goal from Morrison in the last minute. But goalie Michel Larocque was fantastic in the waning moments, and BU pulled it out.
"We were a little flat in the first period I thought then in the second period we picked it up," said Sean Ritchlin, a sophomore on that Michigan team. "Chris Drury really carried BU and he did a real amazing job for them. I thought at the end, we were going to get one. I never thought we'd lose. It's just one of those things where you thought your team was so good, you couldn't lose. But that's the beauty of college hockey, it's a one-game thing."
Beyond the game, what stands up is the remarkable fact that it featured 17 players who went on to play in the NHL.
Eleven different Michigan players have seen NHL action, for a total of 2,034 games: Brendan Morrison (548), John Madden (475), Blake Sloan (290), Bill Muckalt (256), Marty Turco (249), Jason Botterill (88), Matt Herr (58), Bubba Berenzweig (37), Warren Luhning (29), Dale Rominski (3), and Greg Crozier (1). For BU, six players have totaled 1,779 NHL games, including: Chris Drury (544), Tom Poti (510), Shawn Bates (407), Dan Lacouture (314), Michel Larocque (3), and Chris Kelleher (1).
That's 3,813 total games in just eight seasons, including this one, as of Monday night.
Five years ago, I ran a comparison between that and other seasons, just to show how abnormal it was. It's even more striking now, with five more seasons under their belts, thanks to the prominent NHL roles played by Morrison, Madden, Poti, Drury and Bates.
By comparison, the other semifinalists from 1997, North Dakota and Colorado College, have seven plays who got a taste of the NHL, most notably North Dakota's Jason Blake. Between them, there are seven players with 616 games of NHL experience: North Dakota's Jason Blake (418), Jeff Ulmer (21), Curtis Murphy (1), Brad DeFauw (9) and Matt Henderson (6), and CC's Brian Swanson (70) and Toby Petersen (91)
A quick glance at some other seasons shows very little in the way of competition for the standard established by the 1996-97 Michigan Wolverines and BU Terriers. At the time, we looked at the 1995 final with BU and Maine. BU had the likes of Jay Pandolfo, Drury and Bates, but Maine only had one player with one NHL game, Jeff Libby, whose career was cut short by an eye injury.
In 1993, the Maine-Lake Superior State final was pretty good, with Paul Kariya, Mike Dunham, Brian Rolston and Jim Montgomery — but it didn't come close to BU-Michigan.
Going back a bit farther, we had the Northern Michigan-BU final of 1991, which to this point still surpasses the 1997 opponents in total games, but 1997-BU-Michigan is destined to pass it. Still, the 1991 final featured Tony Amonte, Shawn McEachern, Keith Tkachuk and Dallas Drake. Pretty good.
The topper, though, that we discovered at the time was the 1982 final between Wisconsin and North Dakota.
That game featured a mind-blowing 20 future NHL players. And at the time, Chris Chelios and James Patrick were still playing. And, criminy, Chelios still is.
So updating the breakdown: North Dakota (5,992): Craig Ludwig (1,256); Patrick (1,280), Troy Murray (914), Dave Tippett (721), Rick Zombo (652), Phil Sykes (456), Jon Casey (425), Dave Donnelly (137), Gord Sherven (97), Darren Jensen (30), Jim Archibald (16) and Dan Brennan (8). Wisconsin (4,089): Chelios (1,470), Bruce Driver (922), Brian Mullen (832), Patrick Flatley (780), Marc Behrend (38), John Newberry (22), Phil Houck (16), John Johannson (5) and Terry Kleisinger (4).
Um ... that's 10,081 games played, and counting (thanks Chelios). That is not likely to be topped any time soon.
OK ... back to the point of this, which is that the 1997 BU-Michigan semifinal was college hockey at its finest. We can only hope for more of the same this year.
And when all was said and done, you know what still sticks with me the most? The site of Shawn Bates bawling his eyes out at the post-game press conference after BU lost to North Dakota. It was quite a site for one of the most clutch college hockey players there was. It's great to see that he went on to a very productive NHL career.