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College men's hockey: Four-OT loss to Bowling Green in 1984 still resonates with UMD faithful

All week, the phone of former Minnesota Duluth men's hockey coach Mike Sertich has been ringing off the hook. The same for Sertich's former pupil, Bill Watson, who may or may not have been exaggerating when he said he'd taken just under 100 calls...

News Tribune file photo Minnesota Duluth goaltender Rick Kosti prepares to face a shot as Bulldogs senior Tom Kurvers (22) defends during a game in February 1984. UMD went on to play Bowling Green State for the NCAA title that season. Those teams square off in a Midwest Regional semifinal Saturday in Allentown, Pa.
News Tribune file photo Minnesota Duluth goaltender Rick Kosti prepares to face a shot as Bulldogs senior Tom Kurvers (22) defends during a game in February 1984. UMD went on to play Bowling Green State for the NCAA title that season. Those teams square off in a Midwest Regional semifinal Saturday in Allentown, Pa.
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All week, the phone of former Minnesota Duluth men's hockey coach Mike Sertich has been ringing off the hook.

The same for Sertich's former pupil, Bill Watson, who may or may not have been exaggerating when he said he'd taken just under 100 calls himself.

The reason for the sudden surge in Bulldogs hockey nostalgia comes from the university that popped up next to top-seeded UMD on Sunday night as the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional - Bowling Green. The programs met 35 years ago for the 1984 national championship in Lake Placid, N.Y., playing the longest final in NCAA tournament history.

The Falcons (25-10-5) prevailed 5-4 in four overtimes. Now they and the Bulldogs (25-11-2) meet again in the NCAA tournament for the first time since, this time in a Midwest Regional semifinal at 3 p.m. Saturday at PPL Center in Allentown, Pa.

"Did the outcome of the game change?," asked Watson, who won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award in 1985 as a junior. "They still talk about it every time I go to a Frozen Four. They like to talk about the game. It ended in Bowling Green's favor, that's what I say."

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Watson understandably isn't a fan of the way his sophomore season concluded. To this day it stings him that UMD led 4-2 in the third period before the Falcons rallied to force the extra periods. The game-tying goal came with 1:47 remaining in regulation after a simple dumped puck took a weird bounce off a seam in the Olympic Arena boards.

Sertich, head coach of the Bulldogs for 18 seasons from 1982-2000, said this week that he never went back and rewatched the 1984 championship. All he's seen is a highlight of Gino Cavallini's goal that came 7:11 into the fourth overtime - OT periods were 10 minutes in those days - to give the Falcons their one and only NCAA title. That was enough for him.

"If not for a nickel wood screw we might have been champions," Sertich said.

The Bulldogs have won two national championships in the 35 years since that defeat with the first coming in 2011 and the second coming last year, both at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

For Sertich, Watson and all the other Bulldogs who played in the 1984 national championship, UMD's 2011 title erased the pain of losing to Bowling Green. Watson said UMD's 3-2 overtime victory over Michigan allowed he and his teammates to turn the page on 1984.

"Tommy Kurvers said it best," Sertich said referencing his 1984 Hobey Baker-winning defenseman. "We've been justified."

Justified? Heck, yeah.

Has the page been turned, however? Not quite, as the Bulldogs of that era continue to learn. Despite the heartbreaking result, UMD fans continue to be intrigued by that 1983-84 team and the defeat to Bowling Green.

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There are many reasons why, players theorize.

Watson pointed out that Duluth is a much more vibrant community today than it was in the 1980s when the city and surrounding community were battling high unemployment. In the midst of those hard times arose a local college hockey program that followed up its first NCAA tournament appearance in 1983 with its first WCHA regular-season championship in 1984.

UMD went on to win the WCHA postseason title - held in Minneapolis because the DECC was unavailable - and then beat Clarkson 9-8 in a total-goals NCAA quarterfinal series to reach its first Frozen Four, where they topped a North Dakota squad featuring current coach Scott Sandelin, then a sophomore, 2-1 in overtime.

"Everything was such a first. We had never been there before," Sertich said of playing for league and national championships. "I had someone once tell me ... even if we had won, I don't know that it would have made much of a difference because the emotional connection between that team and the community and the area was already established.

"I did not realize that at the time. In retrospect and as I look back, I think to myself, 'Wow, that was really something.' "

Like Sertich, many of the 1983-84 Bulldogs have come around to view the four-overtime defeat in a different light, including Kurvers, UMD's first Hobey winner.

Now the assistant general manager for the Minnesota Wild, Kurvers described the run to the national title game during his senior season as a long, unexpected ride for the school and community.

Some of the love for that team may be sympathy for the gut-wrenching loss, but there is also plenty of admiration for players who gave everything they had that night in Lake Placid, Kurvers said.

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"For a lot of guys your mind goes right to the painful loss, but I got to know a couple of the people on the other side over the years and it just goes back to a collective terrific shared experience," Kurvers said. "There was a painful loss at the end of it, but the players I met - Dave Ellett, Garry Galley, Gino Cavallini - they hold game in high regard. There was no gloat. There was nothing but respect for the magnitude of the game.

"We're just a bunch of old hockey guys now. How cool was it that we played in a game like that? That has taken over for me."

Karma for 1983?

Often forgotten about the UMD-Bowling Green matchup are the events that preceded the epic battle the year before when the Bulldogs received their first bid to the NCAA tournament.

Then an eight-team tournament with four teams from the West and four from the East, UMD was awarded the final at-large berth in the West over Bowling Green by a controversial 3-1 committee vote.

"I know at the time it left a very, very sour taste in Bowling Green's mouth," Sertich

said. "They felt slighted and that they should have gotten in."

The Falcons were the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season champions in 1982-83, but they failed to garner their league's automatic bid after losing 4-3 to Michigan State in Detroit for the CCHA postseason title.

The Bulldogs finished fourth in what was considered a much stronger WCHA that year - Minnesota and Wisconsin both received home-ice quarterfinal series - and were ousted in the league semifinals. However, UMD posted an 11-1-1 record outside the WCHA that included wins over Harvard and New Hampshire. Bowling Green State, as it was known then, was just 1-2-1 outside the CCHA.

"It was ill prepared and an irrational decision," Bowling Green coach Jerry York, now coach at Boston College, told the News Tribune in March 1983. "I think three of the committee members can take a tremendous amount of blame for setting college hockey back 10 years."

York was on the rules and selection committee in 1982-83, as was UMD athletic director Ralph Romano. Both were replaced, as was Harvard coach Bill Cleary, when their teams became under consideration.

Word is Romano, who passed away at age 49 midway through the 1983-84 season, made sure to remind the remaining committee members what the NCAA criteria was before recusing himself from the selection process. It was a criteria that ultimately favored the Bulldogs, right or wrong.

"It's called karma. That's probably why they beat us the next year," Watson said. "They, without a doubt, should have been in the tournament."

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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