Catching Up With ... Blaine Lacher
Former Laker Has 23-Year Old Record on Line Tonight
Editor's Note: This was written just before the game on Friday, Feb. 17, that Atte Tolvanen played in an attempt to break Blaine Lacher's record. Tolvanen ultimately fell short. For more details on this story that weren't able to be included here, see this update.
For 23 years, former Lake Superior State goaltender Blaine Lacher has held the streak for most consecutive minutes played without allowing a goal, 375 minutes, 1 second, set in 1994. That team was on the way to its third national championship. Lacher left after that season and embarked on a brief NHL career where he wowed teams for half a season before it faded. And then he was gone, rarely heard from again since. He moved back to his hometown of Medicine Hat, Alberta, where he works in business and raises a son.
When Lacher went on the streak, he obliterated the previous record. Since then, as hockey has become more defensive, a number of other goalies have gotten into the 200s, most recently Cam Johnson of North Dakota, who stood second on the all-time list until last weekend. That's when Northern Michigan's Atte Tolvanen became the first goalie since Lacher to surpass 300 straight scoreless minutes.
Tolvanen now stands just over 39 minutes away from breaking the record, as his team plays tonight at Minnesota State. We caught up with Lacher to talk about it. He said he recently found out about Tolvanen from his old college roommate, who happens to be the equipment manager for Jeff Jackson, the Lakers' coach when Lacher played, at Notre Dame.
CHN: So your record is on the line this weekend. Do you have any thoughts? You've had the record for quite a while. Are you a little sad it my go by the way side?
Lacher: No. Here in Canada we get a lot of college hockey now that football is off TV. But I had no idea. I know the Boston College goalie (Thatcher Demko) last year was getting really close.
CHN: Yeah, he had six out of seven.
Lacher: Yeah, I think it's great. I'm at a fundraiser for my kid's hockey team tonight, but I'll keep an eye on it. ... When we did it at Lake Superior it was right at the end of the year and going into the playoffs. We went on a roll and ran right through everybody. It was perfect timing for us. But I only had six shots against one game.
CHN: That's amazing. Last weekend, Tolvanen had to stop 87. ... Your name has been in the record books a long time. Is it something that crosses your mind a lot even now?
Lacher: Absolutely. I've had friends that have gone to the Hockey Hall of Fame and they took one of my jerseys for that (for display) and (my friends) always ask what it's in there for (chuckles). So I just tell them we went three weeks without getting scored on, so that's why it's in there.
CHN: What were you thinking at the time? Were you thinking about it then?
Lacher: No, like I said, we were at the end, in the middle of the playoffs and, you know JJ (Jackson) as well as I, he said he wasn't going to let me think of that. We were all pretty focused. Nobody even brought it up. I was darned close to (the streak being over) before anybody even mentioned it to me. So I didn't even know anything about it. The game against Michigan State was the first game at The Joe that year (for the CCHA tournament semifinals), and we shut them out, and then we played Michigan (in the final) and lost 3-0. Coach Jackson is kind of a robot, right? Do things his way, and it's a total team game, and he didn't want me to know and I didn't know. It wasn't a cell phone, computer world like it is today either.
CHN: You must have been cognizant of it at some point.
Lacher: Not until that first playoff game when we went to The Joe did I hear anything about it. I was 80 minutes away (from it ending) before I heard anything about it.
CHN: Well, once you get there, you have all the publicity.
Lacher: Yeah, there were all the Detroit papers there and they wanted to talk about it, so I definitely knew about it then.
CHN: Well, even if he does make it, records are made to be broken, I guess, but it's lasted a pretty long time, 23 years.
Lacher: Well, he's not Canadian, so I can't give him that, but it is in the Upper Peninsula, so that's OK (laughs).
CHN: Even if, like you said, you weren't quite aware of the record, your team was on an incredible roll that year, and you personally. Can you even put into words why that all came together for you at that point? Your first two years you had your ups and downs and then boom. (Lacher battled through confidence issues his freshman year, and at one point a team-imposed two-game suspension after being arrested for disorderly conduct. The charges were dropped.)
Lacher: Yeah, that last year, before the streak happened, I was on a pretty bad hamstring injury for a month and a half, two months. Then when I came back it took a couple games, and we had the Christmas break right away. When we came back from that, everything clicked. We were on a roll. The only team we lost to is Michigan — and they beat us five times.
CHN: And then after you lost to them in the CCHA tournament, you had to beat them in the NCAAs.
Lacher: We had to play them the next week again. And we were extremely upset about it. We were on the bus back from The Joe when we found out who we played. And we had to play Northeastern (first) and if we won that, Coach says we'd be playing Michigan. And everyone was hooting and hollering, bitching, about having to play Michigan again. And I remember JJ standing up and he goes, "You (expletive) haven't beaten the Huskies yet what are you worried about Michigan for?" (laughs) That was the only team that could beat us and we were just a little nervous.
CHN: On the other hand, it was great you got your revenge finally.
Lacher: Yeah, in an overtime game. We beat Northeastern in overtime, then we beat Michigan in overtime. Then we went to the Final Four and had to beat Harvard in overtime. Then the final was 9-1 (over Boston University).
CHN: That's a little ridiculous in retrospect. Does that make any sense?
Lacher: No. It was great after two periods to kinda know, get through the first five minutes of the third, stop a couple long ones and the game is over. It was ridiculous, but the guys were on a roll, and having lost to Maine the year before in the final, there was just no way that BU was going to beat us that day.
CHN: Yeah, that (final in 1993) was the famous Jim Montgomery game (he had a third-period hat trick as Maine rallied for a 5-4 win), not to bring up bad memories. I talked to him last year about that because he was in the Frozen Four for the first time since, as coach with Denver.
Lacher: Yeah, he's doing great.
CHN: You look on the Internet these days, and you do a search for your name, and the one thing everyone mentions is "Blaine Lacher, the shortest moment of greatness, then it went away." Does that bother you or do you just appreciate you had your great moment?
Lacher: It doesn't bother me, per se, but I definitely consider it a privilege to have gotten a chance, and definitely a privilege to have played for JJ. I'm back in my home town where I grew up, working in the oil fields and a decent life with a great kid. He's at the age where he cruises the Internet and he barely knows about my past at all. He's getting to the point where he's going to learn some things I'm sure. At least all my clothes were on, so I'm fine. (laughs) ... I appreciate I had the moment, but I believe I possibly quit hockey a little hastily. Now, I wish I would've taken care and went to Germany and played in a lesser league and just enjoyed the game for a while. Quitting hastily was probably the only regret I had. I didn't want to go to another team — three teams in a year and a half — and I was just not having fun.
CHN: Obviously you had abilities, but when things start to slip off, is that just a mental thing? Do you lose confidence fast for some reason?
Lacher: You lose confidence fast, but then the people who decide to play you or not lose confidence in you as well, and you see the writing on the wall that your chances are going to dwindle with this coach or this organization and it's disheartening.
CHN: Well, like you said, things are good, but it's certainly understandable wishing you had more time to have fun with hockey.
Lacher: Yeah. A couple more years and my kid gets a little older, he's going to go on a road trip with me and go to Notre Dame and see JJ, and go to Lake Superior and see a couple of games. And that'll be great.
CHN: Those guys are all saying they haven't see you much in recent years. Is that on purpose?
Lacher: No, I'm just on the other side of the country, and summer when we have these reunions and stuff, it's my busy time. It just hasn't worked out. I'll get back there sooner or later.
CHN: So, as a goalie, how was your interaction with Jeff Jackson?
Lacher: Well, there's zero interaction when things are going well, that's for sure. (laughs) I think he's got a psychology minor from his college days, so he just likes to talk every now and then, make sure things are going well. We rarely watched video or anything back then. Just talking and making sure you're doing good, making sure I'm calling home and talking to my parents — he was like a father figure for sure. He recruited me two years earlier when they wound up taking Darren Madeley instead of me. And he was fantastic.
CHN: So you decided to wait instead of going somewhere else?
Lacher: Well, in juniors I had a pretty serious knee injury, and my last year in juniors I was playing really good, I had a lot of places I could've went, and they just so happened to be looking again — Madeley had a three-year scholarship. (Lacher said he also visited Denver and Merrimack.)
CHN: That '94 team didn't have a lot of guys that went to the NHL — some here and there — but is that a source of pride?
Lacher: That was the Lake Superior way, right? Michigan and Michigan State would steal all the classy recruits and we'd get all the 9-to-5 lunchpail guys. That's why we gave out a lunchpail and a hardhat in the dressing room all the time. Coach Jackson does awesome with players like that. Guys that are willing to do anything for him. It was absolutely a thing of pride for Lake Superior. We had Bryan Rolston who was our only blue chipper, but (he wasn't on the '94 team and) he went pro in two years. We had a lot of guys who could do it, Clayton Beddoes, Wayne Strachan, but these aren't guys that a lot of other teams wanted. You're in the locker room meeting these guys and asking them where else they could've went, and it was like, "Hey, it was here or nowhere."
CHN: Last thing, again reiterating, if this happens this weekend, what will be going through your mind?
Lacher: It will be 100 percent fine with me. I'll send him a letter and congratulate him. When I did it, I received a letter from a man, I believe he was in Edmonton at the time, he must have been 80-something years old at the time. And he wrote me a letter that I still have somewhere in my things. And I will graciously do the same.