Tonight is another installment of the biannual Red Hot Hockey game at Madison Square Garden. This matchup between Boston University and Cornell has been taking place since 2007. For the first five installments, I volunteered for the planning committee. I helped out in any way I could, and got to do some cool things in the process, including handing out Zamboni rides and running around with an All-Access pass to the maze that is Madison Square Garden (before and after its recent renovation.)
Another fun aspect of the committee was getting to work on the game program. In 2011, I was given the opportunity to write the BU feature. I interviewed Jack Parker about the 1971 and 1972 BU teams and their clashes with Cornell. The program is not available anywhere online, so I thought in honor of the first Red Hot Hockey I’m not attending, I would share that feature.
For the Boston University national championship teams of 1970-71 and 1971-72, the biggest obstacle they had to overcome wasn’t a change in goaltender or adjusting to a new rink. It was Cornell University.
“Cornell has always been one of our biggest rivals,” said Boston University head coach Jack Parker. “It was and still is, a huge college rivalry.
Parker first got a taste of the BU-Cornell rivalry as a student-athlete at BU. The Terriers and Big Red found themselves pitted against each other in the most grand of spaces. In 1966, Parker’s first season playing at the varsity level, the two teams met at the 1966 Boston Arena Christmas Tournament, ECAC and NCAA Championship games. In the holiday tournament, the two teams found themselves knotted 3-3 after two overtime frames in the venue now known as Matthews Arena. Despite going toepick to toepick with the Big Red in the holiday tournament, the Terriers fell to them in their remaining large scale games that season, allowing Cornell to end the season as both the conference and national champions in games only a week apart.
When the Terriers earned their first national championship in 1971, they won the regular season conference championship to make their way to the national tournament. They won the regular season title with an outstanding 28-2-1 record, with one of those lone two losses being on January 23rd to Cornell at Lynah Rink. The 5-1 loss to Cornell in January signaled a change in goaltender for the Terriers, and the change was quite influential on their way to the national championship.
Canon, New York’s Dan Brady and classmate Tim Regan had been a part of a unstoppable goalie rotation, protecting the net of an underrated freshman team. (At the time, the NCAA did not allow freshmen to play on varsity squads, giving BU a “B” team, a freshmen team that saw its own game action.) But when both goalies jumped up to the varsity level, then head coach Jack Kelley had something else in mind.
“They were both terrific goaltenders,” recalled Parker, who was coaching the freshman team at the time. “I think Jack Kelley had the opinion that he wanted a starting goaltender, and Timmy was our number one guy for quite a while. Then he faltered, and it might have been at Ithaca, I think, and Danny had the chance to play.”
Brady stayed in net through the rest of the season, and came out ahead of a 6-5 offensive battle between Cornell and BU in the ECAC Tournament Consolation game – a game that allowed the Terriers to get their revenge for that January loss, since the game ended Cornell’s season.
“Brady was a star of that season for us, and went on to win the most valuable player of the NCAA Tournament,” said Parker. Brady stayed strong in the Terriers’ 4-2 win over the University of Minnesota in the championship game played in Syracuse, New York.
A bit of a championship hangover plagued the Terriers as they began play in the autumn of 1971. Not only did they come into a season as the hunted, not the hunter, for the first time, they had to adjust to a new arena. After some frustrating delays, Walter Brown Arena finally hosted a game on November 27, 1971. While the convenience of having a rink on campus as opposed to across town was much appreciated, some particular aspects of Walter Brown seemed to slow that edition of the Terriers down. “We returned many of our guys from the year before, but we got going late. We weren’t playing up to our capabilities. Things had gotten too convenient for the guys.” remembered Parker.
The Terriers’ slow start was still a start many teams would have loved to have. They didn’t suffer a loss until December 30th – a tight 3-2 loss to Cornell in the Syracuse Invitational Tournament. In their next sixteen games through the rest of the regular season, the Terriers only fell three time: once to Clarkson, once to Boston College, and once again to Cornell in their final game of the regular season. Their 15-4-1 conference record would prevent them from defending their regular season championship, so much hung on the ECAC Tournament.
BU defeated Rensselear and Harvard in the first two rounds of the tournament, but found them facing regular season champion Cornell in the tournament title game at the Boston Garden.
The Terriers did not have the previous year’s star goalie to assist them in the 1972 tournament. “(Danny) played most of the games in the 1971-72 year as well, but then got hurt. Timmy had to come in and bail us out.”
Also playing against the Terriers in the ECAC championship game was what would seem to be a positive – playing at the Boston Garden. “It was not as if playing there was a huge advantage,” recalled Parker. “Cornell brought a lot of fans down, they travel very well. and do to this day. For us playing in Boston was not a huge advantage. Against any other team, yes, it would have been, but against Cornell it wasn’t. They were very familiar with the venue, and had played ECAC tournament games many times in there.”
The Terriers overcame their change in goaltender and overwhelming Cornell fan spirit to defeat Cornell in the ECAC Championship game, 4-1. A mere week later, the two teams faced each other again in the same exact venue to decide the 1972 NCAA Championship. Terriers Ron Anderson and Rich Jordan had two goals a piece to give BU the 4-0 win, and earn them their second straight national title.
Regan had 29 saves in the shutout, and found himself, just like his classmate the year before, the tournament MVP. “Low and behold, Timmy goes on and wins the MVP of the 1972 game,” said Parker. “I think its ironic that they ended up splitting the games, like they did that freshman year, and then splitting the honors as well. (Regan and Brady) were both terrific goaltenders that any program would have loved to have, but we were lucky to have both of them.”
Parker believes that winning the national title in their fourth game against the Big Red that year was statement making for the program. “BU-Cornell was the biggest rivalry in college hockey at the time. It was the biggest eastern college rivalry for sure. So in 1972, not only were we national champions, but we had beaten our biggest rival doing so.
“It was foretelling, because in the next two national championship games we played, we faced our biggest rival at that time – Boston College in 1978, and then Maine in 1995. But it really started off with that win over Cornell. Cornell was always our big rival, and it continues to be a big rivalry for me to this day.”
Even forty years later, the 1970-71 and 1971-72 teams are the benchmark for the best teams in program history. “Those teams were really measuring sticks for the best BU teams ever,” said Parker. “In this day, those players would have long gone to the NHL by their senior year. They were quite talented.”
Parker believes that Red Hot Hockey is a great forum to reignite one the rivalry that seemingly defined what Boston University hockey is. “Cornell is proud of their tradition, and they are always building upon that. There is no question that Jack Kelley laid the groundwork for what BU Hockey is, and likewise, there is no question that their Ned Harkness laid the groundwork for what they are. They have had a great history, and they continue to have a viable, successful program.”