For a lot of Easterners, it was an enlightening week in Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the NCAA hockey Final Four. First, they learned the correct pronunciation of Sault Ste. Marie. It's not "salt stee Marie." but "soo saint Marie." Second, they learned that there are actually two cities named Sault Ste. Marie. One is in Michigan, the other across the St. Mary's River in Ontario.
The Michigan Sault Ste. Marie is home to 15,136 people, a paper mill, a penitentiary and Lake Superior State College, which beat St. Lawrence 4-3 on junior right wing Mark Vermette's sudden-death overtime goal in the championship game Saturday night.
Other discoveries of note:
?Similarities in nicknames notwithstanding, LSSC Lakers' hockey resembles L.A. Lakers' basketball about as much as the roller derby resembles the Bolshoi Ballet.
?It has cost Dr. Timothy Lappin, a G.P. from St. Charles, Ill., some $130,000 to provide his sons, Tim and Pete, with an education at St. Lawrence, which awards scholarships based on financial need, not athletic prowess. He got his money's worth in one weekend.
?It's definite. Bud Grant, the brilliant but snakebitten former Minnesota Vikings head coach who failed to win the Super Bowl in four tries, has an in-state spiritual successor in the form of Minnesota hockey coach Doug Woog, who now has nothing to show for his three trips to the Final Four.
But the most interesting discovery clearly was LSSC coach Frank Anzalone, a Brooklyn-born, Napoleon-complexed aficionado of X's and O's, who took what was probably the least talented team in the four-team field, 27 guys in whom other colleges had shown little interest, and wrung a national championship from them. Anzalone says that he recruits "character," which translates: If the deafening Boom! that reverberates through the arena when you ride an opponent into the boards fills your heart with song, and if you don't mind having a paper mill for a neighbor for four years, send Anzalone some video of yourself in action. Where you'll likely end up is the Sault.
Individually, Anzalone's players are ornery but ordinary talents: guys like goaltender Bruce Hoffort, who played a season of junior hockey in Saskatchewan before accepting a grant-in-aid and a chance for a degree from Lake Superior; or forward Pete Stauber, who simply didn't get any other college offers. Collectively, the Lakers are a tightly knit juggernaut. Anzalone makes sure his players lift weights or run together at least three times a week after practice. They also get to participate as a group in 6 a.m. anaerobic tortures. If Lake Superior State was the NCAA tourney's Cinderella, then Cinderella can squat-lift 500 pounds and has a tattoo.
"Every time there's a one-on-one confrontation, they end up with the puck," said exasperated Maine assistant coach Jay Leach as the Black Bears, who had been ranked No. 1 or 2 all season, were losing to the Lakers 6-3 in Thursday's semifinal. "That's just good coaching," said Shawn Walsh, Maine's coach.
The Lakers arrived at Lake Placid lightly regarded and with the reputation of being robots programmed mainly for grinding and meanness (they had racked up 1,095 penalty minutes during the 44-game regular season). Anzalone, the man who pushes the buttons, dictates how his charges spend each minute. It was considered a progressive leap for him to let the Lakers out of their hotel rooms in Lake Placid when they had some spare time.