Here's a switch: People were being condescending to Harvard last week. On a visit to Minnesota, the Crimson hockey team learned that 1) the state's lakes are outnumbered only by its hockey snobs and 2) winning the NCAA championship before 16,000 of one's most vociferous critics is an excellent way to shut them up.
Minnesotans have long looked down their noses at eastern hockey, which is alleged to be an effete, watered-down version of the game. Eastern schedules are shorter; eastern players are smaller and, well, softer. When Harvard defenseman Josh Caplan took a slap shot to the left shin and crumpled to the ice during the NCAA final last Saturday, he was booed. Suck it up, pansy!
For us, goes the thinking in Gopher-land, hockey is a way of life. For them, it is an extracurricular activity.
This year's NCAA Final Four On Tee was held in St. Paul, which was being billed as Hockeytown, U.S.A. And for the fourth time in as many years, coach Doug Woog's Golden Gophers were in the Final Four. Here was another chance to win his first title. The Gophers last won the NCAAs in 1979, under Herb Brooks.
The Harvardians, for their part, were seeking their first NCAA team title ever—the NCAA does not hold a squash championship. While they were at it, they would debunk a few myths about eastern hockey.
Chief among the debunkers was junior left wing Ed Krayer. Emboldened by his two goals in Thursday night's 6-3 semifinal win over Michigan State, Krayer indulged in a bit of postgame woofing. Yes, Maine would be an easier opponent in the finals, but Krayer would rather face the Gophers, he said. Why? "Beating Minnesota would be sweeter," he said. The Gophers routed Maine the next night 7-4, and Krayer had his wish.
A close, clean match was predicted for the finals. Woog and Harvard coach Bill Cleary are hockey purists, both favoring speed and skill over clutching and grabbing. Indeed, Saturday's game was mainly a montage of dazzling rushes, playmaking and goaltending. After 60 minutes, the score was tied 3-3.
At 4:16 into overtime, Krayer pounced on a rebound and kicked it across the slot, drawing Gopher goalie Robb Stauber out of his crease. Seizing his moment, Krayer backhanded an anemic shot that meandered past Stauber's skates—"It took 15 minutes to go in," Krayer said later—and over the line, ending the game.
The victory was, as Krayer foresaw, sweet. Especially for Cleary, who in his 18 seasons at Harvard has won everything but a national title. It may have been sweetest of all for Krayer himself. All season, as the Crimson skated to a 24-2-0 regular-season record, Krayer's was one of the team's few unhappy stories. After playing two solid seasons for the Crimson, he had taken 1988 off, leaving school to sell real estate and "do some growing up," he said. Upon his return to Harvard, Krayer could not shake the rust: At the end of the regular season, he had just 14 points and little confidence.
But as the playoffs approached, his teammates noticed a change. In practice, everything he touched went into the net. And in Harvard's two-game sweep of Lake Superior State in the NCAA quarterfinals, Krayer scored two goals.