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Gaudy in red, white and gold, the University of Denver hockey team trooped into its dressing room beneath the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs last Saturday and made loud, happy noises. As one player dumped a paper cup of Coke on the head of a teammate, Coach Murray Armstrong bubbled, "Just boyish enthusiasm; boyish enthusiasm has always been our game."
Winning would be a better word, for Armstrong's Pioneers, not surprisingly, had just defeated Cornell 4-3 for the NCAA championship. Thus they retained the national title they won last year—and have been battling for consistently ever since Armstrong stopped selling hats 13 years ago and started selling good young Canadian hockey players on Denver.
The championship game was a thriller, with the Pioneers—led by All-Americas George Morrison and Keith Magnuson and backed by a wild-eyed Colorado crowd—pouring in on Cornell's All-America goalie, Ken Dryden. The first period ended 1-1, but the Pioneers enjoyed such a territorial edge it seemed only a matter of time until Dryden would weaken. Morrison put the Pioneers ahead with a rebound midway through the second period, and one Denver coed, who obviously considered the Big Red dangerous, wrung her program and murmured, "Die, Cornell, die!"
Cornell did not die; in fact it tied the game two minutes later, but the Pioneers came out winging in the third period and went ahead 4-2 after 11 minutes. When Cornell scored from in close at 18:40, Dryden came out of his net to be replaced by an extra attacker, but the Big Red failed in its try for the equalizer.
The lanky Dryden, brother of the Chicago Black Hawk goalie, Dave, had received most of the credit for the 26-1 record Cornell brought to the Broadmoor. Indeed, he had become something of a legend in the East, losing but three games in a 70-game career and achieving a 1.65 goals-against average.
It was noteworthy that Cornell and Harvard managed to place and show in a tournament long dominated by the West (19 titles out of 22), and also that an unusually large number of NHL scouts and officials—including President Clarence S. Campbell—checked into the Broadmoor Hotel at the foot of the Rockies to be present.
The pros are going to be watching more and more college teams. Two years ago when the NHL passed a rule preventing a team from drafting a boy until age 20, it quietly transformed hundreds of potential teen-age pros into potential students first, pros later. Before the rule, which was passed to help the new West, Division catch up with the old, an NHL club could obtain the rights to a boy at 17 and entice him to turn pro. Now that same boy has a few years to go before he can sign, so he looks around, and suddenly the chance to play hockey and also get a college education doesn't seem so outlandish.
Historically the NHL coaches have disliked college hockey for two reasons: 1) there aren't enough games, and 2) the rules prohibit violent forechecking. "In the NHL, forechecking is the name of the game," said St. Louis Coach Scotty Bowman last week. "Did you notice all those defensemen freezing the puck along the boards here? They do that in their own zone because they know they can't get hit from behind. In the NHL a forechecking team would put those guys through the glass."
"I think a boy forfeits a great deal of his potential playing in college instead of going straight into Junior A," said one scout. "Here, at the most critical period of his development, he's exposing himself to inferior competition, slowing himself down."
"In the past 10 years more than a thousand boys have come down from Canada to play hockey in American colleges," said Clarence Campbell. "Those who have gone on to careers in the NHL can be counted on one hand. A college hockey player should be able to look forward to a career in pro hockey just as much as his classmates can look forward to one in pro football, basketball or baseball. But because of the difference in rules and the lack of programs extensive and intensive enough to develop his potential, the odds are stacked against the college hockey player."