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Then, in NCAA quarterfinal play, Minnesota and Wisconsin beat ECAC third-and fourth-place playoff finishers, New Hampshire and St. Lawrence, respectively, while Harvard and Providence dispatched Michigan State and UM- Duluth to set up what tournament buttons referred to last week as the GRAND SLAM IN GRAND FORKS.
Two hours before Wisconsin appeared for Thursday's semifinal against Providence, the 70-member Badger band and several hundred fans took to the arena parking lot to begin the successful defense of their title as the most enthusiastic college hockey fans, singing and dancing to everything from beer-commercial music to the theme from 2001.
As the Badgers were shutting out the Friars 2-0 in a game that was not as close, exciting or as well played as the score suggests, the seas of red-clad Wisconsin fans on one side of the arena announced that the victory "tastes great" while those on the other side answered that the impending win was "less filling." It certainly wasn't satisfying, except perhaps to Wisconsin Goalie Marc Behrend, who had what he admitted was an "easy" shutout, and to Paul Houck, who scored the first and winning goal.
Friday's semifinal, Minnesota against Harvard, figured to be a gimme for the bigger Western team and its superb forwards, particularly the line of Steve Griffith, Scott Bjugstad and Butsy Erickson. Until this season, there hadn't been an East-West final since 1971, and of the 10 East-West championship confrontations in the 35 years of the tournament, Eastern teams had won only two.
None of which appeared to matter to Harvard. Led by a couple of preppies from Massachusetts' Belmont Hill School—senior Defenseman Mark Fusco, who earlier Friday had been named recipient of the Hobey Baker Award as the best college player in the country, and his brother, Scott, a sophomore center who had two goals and two assists in the game—Harvard came back from a 3-2 third-period deficit for a 5-3 upset win. The game was the most wide open and exciting of the tournament, marred only by an excuse-me goal, Minnesota Defenseman Kurt Larson's clearing pass sliding into the Gopher cage off the stick of surprised Goalie Mike Vacanti and making it 4-3 Harvard.
At the finale, standing in lonely opposition to the Wisconsin fans—"Hey, Harvard, this is a hockey game not the quiz bowl"—were an estimated 250 Harvard fans, including an 18-piece band whose Ten Thousand Men of Harvard could scarcely be heard amidst the blare of On, Wisconsin! from a Badger band with 18 trombones.
Cleary's strategy of trying to put a lot of forechecking pressure on Wisconsin failed because the Badgers' brilliant defensive tandem of Bruce Driver and Chris Chelios sent quick and sure breakout passes to flying Badger forwards. And, while none of the Harvard players, nor Cleary himself, claimed it as an excuse, history shows that teams playing Thursday, and thereby getting Friday to rest before the title game, have won 15 of the last 18 NCAA titles.
The only person in the capacity crowd of 6,000 whose allegiance seemed in question was attorney Bill Ginsberg of Madison, Wis., who holds a bachelor's degree from Harvard and a law degree from Wisconsin. On Thursday Ginsberg had worn his IMPALE YALE T shirt but by Saturday had decided to "cheer for Wisconsin in the first and third periods and Harvard in the second."