Michigan Tech was again idle last weekend due to COVID-19 issues on the team. So, this week the Old Dog is going to look back at the three Husky NCAA Championship teams.
When THG was first launched, our logo was actually based on three NCAA trophies:
The championship years are on that logo—but there have been many other appearances, too. They are high points in Michigan Tech Huskies hockey, and in this, the 100th year of the program, they are all worth remembering.
Early Days of the NCAA Tournament
The first NCAA championship was held in 1948, and Michigan was the champion that year. The game was played at the Broadmoor Ice Palace in Colorado Springs, as were the next nine tournaments. The tournament had just four teams—2 from the east and 2 from the west.
In 1956, Michigan Tech, coached by Al Renfrew and led by all-tournament selection Pete Aubry and second-team All-American Jack McManus, opened up the tournament with a 10-4 whipping of Boston College. In the championship game, Michigan defeated the Huskies 7-5. Renfrew left for North Dakota after that year (and went to Michigan soon after), and he was replaced by John MacInnes. It was an auspicious change. Prior to the 1955-56 season, Tech had only seven winning seasons dating back to 1919-1920 when the Huskies started playing intercollegiate games. Over the next 26 years, MacInnes’ teams would only have four losing seasons.
The Huskies Heyday
Once MacInnes took over, Tech soon became one of the premier teams in the nation. Starting in 1958, the tournament was moved out of the Broadmoor and played in different locations around the nation. In 1960, Tech was again runner up, ending up on the short end of a 5-3 score against Denver after running over St. Lawrence 13-3 in the semi-final. Led by future Michigan coach Dan Farrell, that team also included sophomores Henry Akervall, Elon Seger and Lou Angotti. (Freshmen weren’t allowed to play varsity sports in those days.)
In 1962, with Angotti and goalie Gary Bauman headlining, the Huskies broke through at the Utica Memorial Auditorium in Utica, New York. They beat St. Lawrence in the first game 6-1 and then took the championship with a 7-1 win in the finals against Clarkson. That team was loaded—they had four first team All-Americans. Besides Angotti, defensemen Akervall and Seger (for whom the Huskies “Most Improved Player” award is named) and forward Jerry Sullivan were all key players on that team. Bauman didn’t make that All-American list, even though his 1961-62 2.44 goals against average was one of the best in Tech history—and his three year career GAA (2.64) is still third best all-time.
By 1965, MacInnes had reloaded and now had one of the all-time Husky greats, Tony Esposito, in goal. After finishing second to North Dakota (despite a mid-season slump that almost eliminated them from the WCHA playoffs) in the regular season, Tech defeated the NoDaks in the WCHA playoffs to win the MacNaughton Cup—the last time the Cup was awarded to a playoff champion rather than the regular season champ. At Meehan Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island, Tech won their semi-final game 4-0 against Brown. Rick Best, who shared net duties with Esposito, had the first shutout in NCAA tournament history in that game. With Esposito back in net for the finals, the Huskies then pasted Boston College 8-2 to win Tech’s second NCAA championship. Joining All-American Esposito on the all-tournament team were Dennis Huculak, Pete Leiman, Gary Milroy and Wayne Weller.
While the Huskies continued their winning ways in the WCHA, finishing 1st in 1966, 3rd in ’67 and 2nd in 68, they would not return to the NCAA tournament until 1969. That year, led by Al Karlander, Tech won both the regular season championship and shared the playoff championship with Denver. (The format was designed to qualify two teams for the NCAA tourney and there was no single playoff champ in that era.)
Tech also grabbed their first Great Lakes Invitational championship that season but ran into a buzz saw as the tournament returned to the Broadmoor (now the Broadmoor World Arena) for the first time since 1958. In semis, Karlander was on fire, scoring all three of Tech’s goals against soon-to-be Stanley Cup champion goaltender Ken Dryden, but Cornell, who was 19-1 in the regular season, notched one in overtime and went to the finals. Cornell lost to Denver in the finals—but Tech again lost in overtime in the consolation game, 6-5 to Harvard.
Next year, the Huskies were second in the WCHA regular season and co-playoff champs. At Lake Placid, Tech again had tough luck, losing 4-3 to Clarkson in the semis and also losing in the consolation game to Wisconsin 6-5.
In 1971, Them Dogs won the MacNaughton cup again as regular season champs of the WCHA but faltered in the playoffs and did not qualify for the NCAA tournament. That marked a major turning point, in Tech’s hockey history, as ground was broken for the Student Ice Arena and MacInnes began another rebuilding program for the Huskies’ roster.
The Decade of Glory
As the Huskies moved to their new arena, it was clear that college hockey was changing. More schools were adding hockey, and conferences were expanding while new arenas, like the JMac, were being built. MacInnes, though, kept up with the times. And the game itself was also evolving. It was a time of wide-open offense, with defense and goaltending becoming secondary to scoring. Although it wasn’t clear at the time, the freshman class of 1971-72 would be the start of some of the greatest teams in Husky history.
Many of the key players who would make Tech a monster team in the decade were freshmen in 1971-72, the first year the Huskies played in their new arena. Billy Steele, Bob D’Alvise, Bob Lorimer, Bruce Abbey and Jim Warden all started their career in that season. It was one of MacInnes’ few losing seasons, and it wasn’t readily apparent that this class was destined for great things.
Next season, Mike Zuke, George Lyle, Jim Mayer and Jim Murray were added. That team turned the corner, even though they only finished fifth in the WCHA that year.
In 1973, the Huskies loaded up even more, adding Steve Jensen, Stu Younger and Paul Jensen to the roster. That team was one of MacInnes’ all time best, taking another MacNaughton Cup, one of the two playoff crowns, and posting a 28-9-3 mark. In the opening round of the Frozen Four held at the famed Boston Garden, Tech turned the table on Harvard for the ’69 consolation loss, besting the Crimson in overtime by the same 6-5 score from that previous game.
In the finals, MacInnes faced off against Herb Brooks and one of the all-time great Minnesota teams. Although Tech had swept the Gophers just two weeks earlier to seal up the MacNaughton Cup, Brooks’ team, which included future Miracle star Buzz Schneider and current broadcaster Joe Michelleti (as well as six other players who suited up in either the NHL or the WHA) took the title with a 4-2 victory.
Wait until next year.
The story was much the same the following year. Brooks and MacInnes. The best two teams in the WCHA, which was the best conference in the country. This time, the Gophers won the MacNaughton Cup and shared the playoff title with Tech. In the semifinals at The Arena (later the Checkerdome) in St. Louis, Them Dogs took it to Boston University 9-5. In the finals, it was bombs away as the Huskies got revenge and their third national championship with a 6-1 win.
In the next year, Tech and Minnesota were again the two best teams in the country. However, this was the 75-76 season, and three of Tech’s best players—Steve and Paul Jensen, and Jim Warden—were gone, playing for the US Olympic Team. Still, the Huskies won another MacNaughton Cup and again shared the playoff title with the Gophers. They posted Tech’s all-time best regular season records (34-9-0 overall and 25-7 in the WCHA) in the process.
Playing in Denver, Tech edged Brown 7-6 in overtime while Minnesota dispatched Boston University 4-2 in the other semifinal. However, in the final game, Brooks outdueled MacInnes to win 6-4. This was the last time the tournament would have only four teams, as the field expanded to 6 teams (with a play-in game) the next year.
MacInnes again reloaded, but the Huskies would not return to the tourney until 1980-81 when the event included 8 teams and two-game-total-goal regional matches. The Huskies tied for second in the WCHA that year, with a 29-14-1 record and a share of the playoff title. That team was led by Mel Pearson, goalie Frank Krieber, future LA King Tim Watters, and Ron Zuke (Mike’s younger brother).
In the regional, the Huskies swept Providence, taking the opener 7-3 and finishing the deal with a 6-5 win on Saturday. In the semifinal in Duluth (at what eventually became the DECC), Tech’s nemesis Minnesota had too much for the Huskies and went to the final with a 7-2 victory. In the consolation game, Tech plowed past Northern Michigan 5-2 for at least a modest measure of satisfaction.
The Long Drought and Recent Events
Sadly, MacInnes fell ill during the next season, his last as Tech’s coach. Less than a year later, he passed away far too early at the age of 57, and Michigan Tech began a slow and gradual demise into the depths of insignificance. The Huskies would plow through seven coaches and only three winning seasons until Pearson, returning to his alma mater, made it back to the Big Skate (now a 16 team tournament) in 2015 where Tech lost in an overtime spirit-crusher 3-2 against St. Cloud State in the opening game of the regional in Fargo.
The Huskies made a repeat appearance in 2017, but again lost in the opening round to eventual champion Denver. Pearson then departed to take over the head job at Michigan, and Joe Shawhan took the Huskies back to the tournament again in 2018. In the regional at Bridgeport, Conn., Them Dogs fell in an absolute heartbreaker to Notre Dame in overtime. The Irish went on to lose to Minnesota-Duluth, 2-1 in the finals.
As of deadline, the Huskies are set to return to play against Lake Superior State this Friday in Houghton. Whether they can make it back to the Big Skate this year will be determined by how well Shawhan and Them Dogs play during the next six weeks, and the games this weekend are critical first steps in the intensive schedule Tech faces.