Say this for last Saturday's NCAA hockey final, played by Providence College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute before a tournament-record crowd of 16,282 in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena: They got it over with in time for the last bus to Ypsilanti. When the buzzer sounded, the Addesa file was snapped shut with a satisfying click, the Extra-Terrerial had returned to earth, and the Engineers of Troy, N.Y. had proved they are one of the best college hockey teams ever—in and out of overtime.
In defeating patient, intelligent, but badly outgunned Providence 2-1 in the only one of four games last week not to go into overtime, RPI extended its unbeaten streak to 33 games, ran its season record to a best-in-the-nation 35-2-1 and brought the championship East for the first time since Boston University won in 1978. To do it, the Engineers had to beat a goalie, tournament MVP Chris Terreri (a.k.a. Extra-Terrerial), who played so spectacularly he indeed might have come from another planet.
For that matter, in marching to his first NCAA title, RPI coach Mike Addesa at times acted as though he, too, was from outer space. Consider the Engineers' Christmas-night practice. "He says to us. 'Happy Christmas. Get on the ice. Here we go,' " says captain Mike Sadeghpour, who claims, "We really enjoyed it once we got there." Then there were the 90-minute Sunday-night aerobics sessions and the legion of special coaches. In a sport in which one or two assistants is standard, Addesa has four, plus a power-skating specialist, a strength coach and an aerobics instructor.
"I'm obsessed with winning this thing," Addesa had told a friend. One measure of that obsession was the curtain he pulled down on his team in Detroit. Addesa was the only one of the Final Four coaches to close his locker room to the media after practices. Only captains and seniors were allowed to speak with reporters.
"It's basically a football approach," says Addesa, who was a tackle at Holy Cross in the mid-'60s. Addesa never played varsity hockey, and some skeptics consider him, as one Western college assistant coach puts it, "just a textbook coach." But he has brought RPI hockey up from mediocrity in his six-year tenure and has been the most successful coach in college hockey over the past two seasons, with a record of 67-8-1. Last week his textbook approach, like Terreri's goal-tending, was nearly perfect.
In Thursday's semifinal between Providence and Boston College, Terreri showed why his roommate, forward Artie Yeomelakis, calls him "the Doug Flutie of Providence College." With an acrobatic flamboyance that bordered on hotdogging, Terreri came up with a tournament-record 62 saves—BC's Scott (Flash) Gordon had only 22—to preserve a 3-3 tie until Yeomelakis sent the Friars to the final with a goal 33 seconds into the third overtime period. Two weeks earlier Terreri had stopped 65 of 66 BC shots to give the Friars a 2-1 double-OT victory in the Hockey East title game, and he had 83 saves in a two-game series with Michigan State—which some observers had considered the nation's top team—in the NCAA quarterfinals.
On Friday, RPI faced Minnesota-Duluth in the other semi, and both clubs must have taken their game plan from the Engineer band, which played Rock Around the Clock more times than Bill Haley and the Comets ever did. The teams skated and hit through a four-hour triple-OT marathon. In tying a tournament record for most penalty minutes (32), RPI showed why it's the best penalty-killing team in the country, with 88.7% effectiveness. The Bulldogs failed to score in eight power-play opportunities, and the Engineers won the game 6-5 on a John Carter slapper from the left point at 5:45 of the third extra period. The defeat was particularly tough for Duluth because it had lost the national title to Bowling Green in quadruple OT last season. However, the Bulldogs did gain some consolation in Detroit: They defeated Boston College 7-6 in—yes—overtime for third place. Only one OT this time.
The final presented an interesting contrast in game plans. RPI, the Eastern College Athletic Conference champion, had exceptional speed and size, and it was eager to play an up-tempo attacking game paced by high-scoring forwards Carter, who had 43 goals and 29 assists going into the game, Adam Oates (31, 60) and George Servinis (33, 25). Providence, basically a one-line team (Yeomelakis, Tim Army and Steve Rooney scored 44% of the Friars' goals this season), was determined to play at a slower pace. The Friars were willing to concede long-and medium-range shots while relying on Terreri to keep them in the game until they could capitalize on a break. As forward Andy Calcione joked at Friday's practice, "Let's skate around for an hour and a half, then tip one in off my skate." Neither team followed its game plan as closely as it had hoped to, but RPI came closer.
Terreri made a mistake at 4:29 of the first period. When an Engineer shot dropped off the back of Friar defenseman Peter Taglianetti, Terreri tried to scoop in the loose puck with his stick. "I went to throw my stick out," said Terreri, "but for some reason it stuck in my hand." RPI's Neil Hernberg cruised by—Addesa had his forwards crashing in close to the cage all night—and flipped the puck into the net to give the Engineers a 1-0 lead. Then, early in the second period Taglianetti coughed up the puck at center ice to Servinis, who streaked in on Terreri, faked him out and scored for a 2-0 lead. Engineer goalie Daren Puppa was beaten by a long Paul Cavallini blast midway through the final period, but that was it.
When the buzzer sounded, the RPI players hugged one another, while, on the bench, the 6'3", 300-pound Addesa fairly sacked his wife, Mary, and kept repeating, "We won it, honey. It's over." For his part, Terreri, who set a Final Four record with 102 saves, had his head high. In this classic confrontation of a great player and a great team, the great team won—which made the cardboard sign in the upper reaches of the arena most appropriate: NCAA TITLE ENGINEERED BY COACH ADDESA.