The Lacher Story: Behind the Music
What We Dldn't Tell You The 1st Time
This is the behind the scenes true story of tracking down Blaine Lacher, and all that couldn't be told in last Friday's Q&A.
OK, that's a bit melodramatic. But it's true that Mr. Lacher was not easy to find, not even by his old teammates and coaches, many of whom haven't seen him since 1994, when Lacher, as a junior, set the record for consecutive shutout minutes and helped lead Lake Superior State to a national championship.
And it's true that there were things I couldn't get into the Q&A — only because of a lack of time.
Because it took a while to track Lacher down, I hurried to put the piece together prior to Friday's games. That's because Northerm Michigan goaltender Atte Tolvanen was going into the night's action just 39 minutes short of Lacher's record. If you've read that story, it's good to go back and flesh out some of the details I didn't have time to research.
But first, tracking him down. As Lacher himself alluded to, he hasn't been to any Lake Superior functions since 1994. After he retired from hockey, he moved back to his hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta, and worked for Goodyear Tire and in the oil business, and raised a family. All very quietly. But, Lacher said, he didn't intentionally remove himself from everyone, it's just the way it worked out.
But as a result, no one seemed to know how to find him. Lake Superior's Alumni Association had old info. I contacted two people I thought might know — then-LSSU head coach Jeff Jackson, and Wayne Strachan, a 24-goal scorer on that team who is now coaching a junior team in his home town of Fort Frances, Ontario.
As a side note, Strachan was also a high-scoring forward in the United Hockey League during my time there as a broadcaster, so it was interesting to exchange hellos. I was working for Quad City, and he was playing for Thunder Bay. As I mentioned to Wayne, I'll never forget the few times I went up there — perhaps the coldest place I've ever been — and the teams played a memorable playoff series in 1999 that we won in six games. Games 3-5 were in Thunder Bay, so we were there a while. I have a number of crazy stories from two years in the UHL, and the top four or five probably include Thunder Bay, most of which I can't print. Let's just say Slapshot had nothing on Thunder Bay.
So anyway, it took a while, but both Jackson and Strachan were eventually able to help. Don't ask me how, exactly. By this point, though, it was 4 p.m. Friday when all was said and done — not much time to flesh out details. So here are some of those details:
The record that Lacher broke was that of Gerald "Spike" Schultz, who did it for North Dakota in January of 1954, a streak of 249 minutes, 40 seconds. Lacher mentioned getting a nice letter from the person whose record he broke, someone who had played in the 1950s, but couldn't remember his name. So there you go.
Schultz was in the news last year, in fact, because North Dakota's current goalie, Cam Johnson, broke his school record and reached 278:38, passing Wisconsin's Brian Elliott (2006) for second place. (Both Johnson and Elliott went on to win national championships in those seasons, as did Lacher. Tolvanen has his work cut out for him in that regard.)
Tolvanen surpassed Johnson to move into second place, and is the only player besides Lacher to ever pass 300. Defense and goaltending is much more prevalent in hockey these days, so numerous people have passed Schultz in recent years, but still no one has touched Lacher.
When Lacher set the new standard in 1994, he didn't just go past Schultz's mark, he obliterated it. But it's interesting to note that, not only did Lacher not remember Schultz's name, but, as he noted, there was very little publicity about it. Nobody was even really sure what the record was, because there was no official NCAA Record Book at the time for hockey. LSSU's publicity department, and the local Detroit media prior to the CCHA tournament, did some research and settled on Schultz's 249:40. So when Lacher surpassed the mark, 10 minutes into a game against Ohio State during the CCHA playoffs, the moment was noted by the home rink crew, and he received a standing ovation. Lacher had said he didn't really know until he got to The Joe the following week, but apparently there was some acknowledgment of it earlier.
It is nevertheless amazing how little was known of the whole thing, how little fanfare there was, and how little coverage of it there even was going forward. It speaks to something I also wrote about recently, after the passing of Wayne Smith, the long-time guardian of Hockey-L. Back then, it was the one true place to get real news, and in searching those archives during that time, it was a fascinating discussion about Lacher — a combination of "did you guys see this" chatter, discussing with each other how to verify what the record was, and eyewitness accounts of what was going on at the games.
Now, take a look at the Game-by-Game of Lacher's streak:
Feb 26 LSSU 6 UIC 1 58:43 26 saves goal at 1:17 of 1st Mar 4 LSSU 4 KSU 0 60:00 22 saves Mar 5 LSSU 7 KSU 0 60:00 19 saves Mar 11 LSSU 5 OSU 0 60:00 23 saves CCHA quarterfinals Mar 12 LSSU 8 OSU 0 60:00 7 saves CCHA quarterfinals Mar 18 LSSU 4 MSU 0 60:00 25 saves CCHA semifinal Mar 19 LSSU 0 Mic 3 16:18
Now here is Tolvanen's:
Jan 20 NMU 6 UAA 1 35:49 25 saves Jan 21 NMU 4 UAA 0 60:00 34 saves Feb 3 NMU 3 BGSU 0 60:00 35 saves Feb 4 NMU 2 BGSU 0 60:00 40 saves Feb 10 NMU 3 UAF 0 60:00 39 saves Feb 11 NMU 2 UAF 0 60:00 48 saves Feb 17 NMU 3 MnSt 5 3:26
Which one is more impressive really depends upon how you look at it. Tolvanen clearly had to make many more saves during his run. You'll note the seven-save game that Lacher had against Ohio State in the quarterfinals — he alluded to that in the Q&A. But 1994 was also a much, much more open era of college hockey, with goals scored at a higher rate. Neither goalie was facing top teams from a national perspective — that's defunct programs Illinois-Chicago (UIC) and Kent State (KSU) on Lacher's list — until, that is, Lacher shut down mighty Michigan State in the CCHA semifinal.
As Lacher said in the Q&A, that loss in the CCHA championship to Michigan was one of many Lake Superior endured that year. According to eyewitnesses, after the third goal, Lacher threw his stick into the net in frustration. The Lakers, however, would have the last laugh, defeating Michigan in the NCAA Regional, in overtime, to reach the Frozen Four.
Another interesting side note to that: As Lacher discussed in the Q&A, the first three games of that NCAA tournament for LSSU went to overtime, and the Lakers won them all — Northeastern, Michigan and then Harvard in the national semis — before blowing out BU in the championship game. The Northeastern one, however, was steeped in controversy. If the Internet were like it is today, we'd never hear the end of it. Then again, today we have instant replay in use in all such games. But there was a play near the end of regulation, score tied, where Northeastern got a shot through Lacher and it appeared, according to all accounts, to trickle over the goal line. Lacher turned and swiped it with his glove, and the refs ruled he saved it. The Lakers won in OT and the rest is history.
The kicker is that Lacher didn't even make All-CCHA Honorable Mention that year. That's partially due to him missing extended time for a hamstring injury, but many called it a travesty anyway. First Team went to Michigan's Steve Shields, who went on to play 246 NHL games. Lacher played 47.
Since writing the piece, I've heard from a few old friends at LSSU eager to find out how I got a hold of Lacher. They wanted to talk to him themselves, since it's been a while.
Happy to be of service.
And that's the rest of the story.