Biting the Bears
Chris O'Sullivan, the Boston University left wing, grew up in a house in Boston that had one bathroom shared by 13 people. If you were one of John and Ann O'Sullivan's kids, the main goal of childhood was getting into hot water. But Chris, the eighth of 11 children, loved to sleep, and by the time he would wake up, most of the kids and all the hot water would be gone.
On Saturday at the Providence Civic Center, O'Sullivan was the last one in the shower again, but it was O.K. The BU sophomore, who was voted most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament, was obliged to talk to interviewers first, after his two goals helped the Terriers (31-6-3) overpower Maine 6-2 for the title before a sellout crowd of 12,155, 60% of whom seemed to be named O'Sullivan.
Actually, only eight O'Sullivan siblings were in the stands. Peter, 25, and Stephanie, 23, were away in California, but they had legitimate excuses. Peter attends junior college there while Stephanie, the Eastern College Athletic Conference women's hockey player of the year and a member of four Providence College national-championship teams, was in San Jose practicing with the U.S. women's national team.
Right now, the O'Sullivans have four more national hockey titles than they do commodes.
Theirs is a family founded on love and forged by adversity. John O'Sullivan, a Boston Edison employee, died of lymphatic cancer in May 1990, 17 months before his wife's brain cancer was diagnosed. Ann died in June 1992, when Chris was 18. Six months later, in Chris's first season at BU, he slid headfirst into the boards and broke a vertebra in his neck. During a six-hour operation O'Sullivan's doctors used a bone from his hip to fuse two vertebrae together; he was subsequently redshirted for the season. "With everything this family has had to go through, it's drawn us closer," O'Sullivan says. Indeed, the O'Sullivans are so close that nine of the children, who range in age from 14 to 30, still live in the clan's five-bedroom house in Dorchester.
Stephanie called Chris the night before the Maine game to wish him luck and to remind him of Lake Superior State's 9-1 dismantling of favored BU in the 1994 NCAA final—which really doused him with cold water. That humiliation lingered at BU, which last week was playing in its third straight Final Four but had gone without a championship since 1978. Coach Jack Parker said that the Terriers had spent the entire season until the final "treading water," although he didn't specify hot or cold.
Of course, Maine also had some blotches on what educators might call its permanent record. The Black Bears were piranhas in 1992-93, when they went 42-1-2 and won the NCAA title, but they were pariahs in '93-94, when forfeits caused by the use of ineligible players twisted a 17-15-4 record into 6-29-1. Maine athletic director Mike Ploszek and the school's NCAA compliance officer, Linwood Carville, lost their jobs, and coach Shawn Walsh was suspended for five games for allowing defenseman Jeff Tory to play when he was academically ineligible. At the start of this season Maine also lost its best offensive player, Mike Latendresse, when the NCAA ruled that he had used up his eligibility. The Black Bears, 31-5-6 before the BU game, over-achieved just by reaching the final. "I'm extremely proud of our players today," Walsh, whose team was 2-0-2 against BU during the regular season, said after the title-game loss. "I think we've brought Maine hockey all the way back." Maybe. But the NCAA could still grab the Black Bears by the scruffs of their necks and fling them back into the muck. An NCAA investigation into the program is ongoing; Maine is expected to conclude its own investigation by the end of the month.
"In any other sport, [ Maine] probably would have had the death penalty by now," BU captain Jacques Joubert said after the Terriers beat Minnesota 7-3 in the semifinal Thursday. "It's almost a situation where they see how much they can try to get away with."
Joubert's comments were less than gracious, but then nothing about the Maine-BU rivalry is sweet except the hockey. During the '90s the series ( Maine leads it 10-9-4) has become so nasty that Maine officials had to remove a JACK PARKER MUST DIE banner before a game in Orono this winter. Maine initially was barred from the 1994 Hockey East tournament by what it thinks was a BU-led cabal—the Black Bears were reinstated by a court order. Also, Maine partisans thought they detected the Terriers' paw prints on an anonymous fax sent to the NCAA last year noting that USA Hockey's promised payment of $12,500 to players on the 1994 U.S. Olympic hockey team would, in the case of collegians, violate NCAA rules. Maine had two returning Olympians, BU none. "We were on the bus going to play BU when we heard about that," Walsh says. One U.S. Olympian, Maine captain Chris Imes, had to renounce the money to keep his eligibility for this season.