What the NCAA hockey tournament desperately needed was a little life. A little pizzazz. You know, like a few affidavits. "Hey, kid, sign this or we'll put scabbards on your skates." Or maybe a ceremonial contract-signing. "The Vancouver Buffalos announced today they have inked Rod-Guy Hull of Spitfire U. to a 65-year contract for $213 billion and a Volkswagen with movable steering wheel, to be named later." Or even one of those great player jumps: J.C. SUPERSTAR SWITCHES TEAMS DURING NATIONAL ANTHEM.
Thankfully, though, last week's tournament at the Boston Garden was one of those drab affairs. No lawyers. No agents. No judges. No restraining orders. Just a simple old hockey championship with a touch of generation-gap suspense left over from the 4 p.m. soap opera. Could Boston University, the defending champion, win again for departing Coach Jack Kelley?
Like most Irishmen in Boston, Kelley and B.U. Goalie Tim Regan had a big St. Patrick's Day weekend. In the opening game against Wisconsin, Regan allowed a fluke score in the early minutes but recovered to stop the Badgers the rest of the way while B.U. rallied for a 4-1 victory. Then, on Saturday night, before a capacity crowd of 14,995, Regan stopped 39 shots and handed Cornell its first shutout in eight years as B.U. won the championship 4-0.
Not surprisingly, Kelley, who now leaves B.U. to become coach and general manager of the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association, and Regan, who spent most of the last year and a half deep in Kelley's doghouse, spoke on different wavelengths after the game. "Last year, when we won the NCAA, we finished only third in the East and a lot of people thought we sneaked into the nationals," Kelley said. "But this year there is no question about who's No. 1. We were first in the East and now we're first in the NCAA." Over in a corner of the room Regan seemed less excited. "Can two games make you forget things that have been on your mind for about two years?" he asked. "I don't think so. I'm just glad it's over, so let's forget about it."
Although Cornell and B.U. had won the last two NCAA championships, they were expected to finish in the consolation game this year. Denver, the best team in the West, supposedly had more good players than most of the expansion teams in the National Hockey League, while Wisconsin also was rated much stronger than the Eastern teams. But, as both Cornell and B.U. proved, there is one reliable way that a weak team can beat a strong one. "Tight, close, persistent fore-checking backed by good goaltending will do it every time," said Ned Hark-ness, the former Cornell coach who now is the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. "The Western teams can't handle the good forechecking because they don't see it too often."
Ironically, both Cornell and B.U. had definite goaltending problems at the start of the tournament. B.U.'s regular goal-tender, All-America Dan Brady, who was the MVP of the 1971 NCAAs, caught his skate in a rut at a Monday afternoon practice and suffered severe ligament damage in his knee. There was no way he would play. And Dave Elenbaas was 99 to 1 not to be in front of Cornell's net. In the Eastern championship game against B.U. Elenbaas had pulled a hamstring muscle under his right thigh. "I can't split," he said, "and I don't have much mobility in the net."
With Brady injured, Kelley had to play Regan. Two years ago as a sophomore Regan was B.U.'s regular goalie, while Brady was the backup. Last year he was the regular goalie for 14 games, but after B.U. lost 5-1 at Cornell, Kelley benched Regan and started to play Brady regularly. "He told us we were going to alternate this year," Regan said. "He wanted us to alternate by game, but we wanted to split the games—30 minutes each. At least that was the plan."
But Regan spoiled the plan. When B.U. played an exhibition game against the U.S. Olympic team, Regan performed spectacularly. After the game Murray Williamson, the Olympic coach, began to inquire about Regan's availability for Sapporo. "It was the chance of a lifetime," Regan said, "and the best thing was that I wouldn't have to miss out on any classwork." Regan joined the Olympic team before Christmas, and for the next three weeks he commuted from the Olympic camp to wherever B.U. happened to be playing. Then, to Kelley's dismay, he went to Japan.
"Before I left, I told the coach that if anything happened to Danny I'd come home immediately," Regan said. One night, sure enough, Brady injured his ankle. Kelley immediately phoned Regan in Sapporo. "The call came at 4 a.m. Wednesday," Regan said. "I left Tokyo Wednesday at 9 a.m. and arrived back in Boston at 4:45 p.m. the same day. I went right from the airport to practice." As Regan understood Kelley on the phone, B.U. needed him now. But Regan did not play in B.U.'s next few games and, in fact, started only once the rest of the year. "No, I was not very happy," Regan said last week. "Now I've got to play and I don't know how ready I am. It's not that easy."
Cornell's Elenbaas, meanwhile, spent most of the week in a whirlpool bath. "The leg is all black and blue, and it's all taped up," he said. "I can barely move." Elenbaas lives off-campus in Ithaca in the house where Ken Dryden, the former Cornell goalie who now plays for the Montreal Canadiens, once lived. Like Dryden, Elenbaas is an academic wizard—he is majoring in communications arts. "I'd like to be a sportswriter," he says, "so I'm also on the staff of the student paper. But I don't cover hockey. I don't want it to sound as though I'm second-guessing the coach."