By John Gilbert
One of the best features of college hockey is that players of all sizes can be the stars of a team, the best players in any game. Smaller players are often quicker, which makes them eye-catching favorites who draw big crowds of fans, who don't really care how their favorites project as future NHL players.
There were a lot of standout players of all sizes in the WCHA throughout history, and especially, it seems, through the 1970s, which seemed like the pinnacle of college hockey — the Decade of Decades, we could call it.
Michigan State was led by a dynamic scoring duo, Tom Ross and Steve Colp, who fit together as linemates to set all the Spartans scoring records. Doug Palazzari did much the same as Colorado College's mighty mite. Then there was Mark Pavelich, who lifted UMD to the plateau of elite teams, and the Bulldogs also featured Pat Boutette, another diminutive sparkplug, to say nothing of All-America defenseman Curt Giles, who went on to NHL stardom as the best too-short defenseman in Minnesota North Stars history.
Looking at the decade of the '70s, traditional WCHA powers Michigan Tech and Denver won three league titles apiece, and North Dakota won two in the 1970s, while Minnesota won only one, but the Gophers also won their first three NCAA championships in a six-year span of Herb Brooks's magical 7-year reign.
The case could be made that much of the 1970s belonged to the University of Minnesota, but if so, we have to start with a trio of spectacular Gophers centers — Mike Antonovich, Mike Polich and Tom Vannelli — who dazzled with their spontaneous play, if not their physical stature. Those three played huge roles to lift the Golden Gophers from determined competitors to champions. In that vein, it could be declared that Polich scored the biggest goal in Minnesota history, to arrange the first-ever Gopher NCAA title, in 1974.
The third of Brooks's Gopher championships is the most-remembered, not only because it was the most recent, coming in his final season, but also because eight of the players who won the 1979 NCAA championship accompanied Brooks on the long and epic journey that ended up at Lake Placid, where they won the 1980 Olympic Gold Medal, including the "Miracle on Ice" victory over the seemingly unbeatable Soviet Union.
That achievement had extra importance for U.S. college hockey players because it opened the floodgates for the National Hockey League to finally go after the best college players as future elite pro players.
None of that might have happened without Polich, a piano-wire-tight center from Hibbing who had a hair-trigger temper for anything less than the perfection he demanded. In one midseason game, Polich blew up at an official and was given a misconduct. Brooks benched him. Months later, after the Gophers went on to claim their first-ever NCAA title, Brooks told me he thought a key to the title was that benching of Polich because it instilled a discipline in him that helped him become the leader of that 1974 title run. "Right," I told him, "he only got three more misconducts after that!"
When Brooks took over the last-place Gophers for the 1972-73 season, they went 12-13-3 in the league and 15-16-3 overall, for sixth place, as Denver (20-8, 29-9-1 overall) won the league title ahead of Notre Dame (19-9, 23-14-1), Wisconsin (18-9-1, 29-9-2) and Michigan State (16-9-1, 25-12-1).
The next season, 1973-74, Brooks's second season, did not have an impressive start.Minnesota went 0-4-1 in WCHA play, then they went 8-0-1, and never looked back. They finished the regular season in second place to Michigan Tech, having lost 5-2 and 4-1 at Tech before a closing 5-0-1 run that took them through the NCAA Final Four in Boston. To get there, they had to beat Denver in a two-game, total-goals series. The teams tied 3-3 through a fruitless overtime. The next night, Minnesota prevailed 2-1 as goaltender Brad Shelstad was brilliant.
In the semifinals, the Gophers took on Boston University right there in Boston Garden. The Gophers played with rhythm and stalked to a solid 3-0 lead. But BU came back strong, and as the Gophers backed up, the Terriers cut it to 4-3, then tied it 4-4. "With 2 minutes to go, Dick Spannbauer got a penalty," Polich recounted. "BU had the best power play in the country, and I was out there to kill it, with either Buzzy Schneider or Cal Cossalter. BU was passing it back and forth.
"I anticipated they were going to go D-to-D, and I poke-checked the the puck past their D and took off up the left side. As I crossed the blue line, I knew it was a 2-on-1, and Eddie Walsh, their goaltender, was set. I was wondering whether I should pass or shoot, and just then their defenseman moved just slightly to cover my winger, so I shot."
Polich had a quick, short-backswing slapshot, and he cut loose. "I was at the top of the left circle, and I blasted it, low and as hard as I could. It went in, and I couldn't believe it. I looked up at the clock and it said '0:13" — 13 seconds left. We won 5-4, right there in their hometown."
As years passed and the Gophers won two more NCAA titles for Brooks, the thought remains that they might not have won any titles if they didn't win that first one. And when the BU Terriers were storming the Gophers with the Boston Garden rink seemingly tilted their way on a decisive, last-minute power play, Mike Polich's steal and short-handed slapshot with 13 seconds to go stands as the biggest single goal in Minnesota hockey history.
The Gophers carried their finishing touch on by beating Michigan Tech 4-2 in the final to win their first NCAA title. A couple years later, both Polich and Walsh signed pro contracts, both with the Montreal Canadiens, and both were assigned to the Nova Scotia farm team in Halifax. "We talked about it a lot," Polich said. "Eddie told me when I was coming in on him, he was all set but he took one quick glance to see where my winger was, and when he looked back, in that millisecond, the puck was past him"
Polich, defenseman Les Auge, and goaltender Shelstad all made the all-NCAA tournament team and Brooks was coach of the year, but Polich said he thinks the Gophers were even better the next year, when they won the WCHA at 24-8 and won their way past UMD and Michigan to again reach the Final Four. Polich and Michigan State's Tom Ross were Co-MVPs of the league.
"We had Reed Larson, Russ Anderson, Joe Micheletti and Robin Larson on defense, and guys like Paul Holmgren, Johnny Harris and his younger brother Robbie, and a lot of other guys up front," Polich said. "But there were a lot of great players in the league. Tech had Mike Zuke, Mike Usitalo, Bob Lorimer, Bob D'Alvise, and Jim Warden in goal. Michigan State had that line of Tom Ross, Steve Colp and Darryl Rice, Denver had Tom Peluso, CC had Steve Sertich and Doug Palazzarri, Notre Dame had Eddie Bumbacco and Brian Walsh, North Dakota had Jim Cahoon and Earl Anderson, and UMD had Gord McDonald, and Wisconsin had Brian Engblom — everybody seemed to have star players."
The Final Four was in St. Louis, and while Michigan Tech throttled Boston University 9-5, the Gophers had to struggle to get past Harvard 6-4. In the game, a hassle broke out at the crease of Minnesota goalie Larry Thayer. A Harvard forward came in late and swatted Thayer, then he swatted him again. Big Paul Holmgren arrived and gave the Harvard player a small shove and said, "Hey, you want your face rearranged?" and the Harvard player, in a clipped Boston accent, said, "Yeah, what are you going to do about it?"
With that, Holmgren with his glove still on, punched the Harvard player with a quick left jab. He went down, and was out! Holmgren was given a penalty, while Harvard officials revived their player and let him go out the end door to the dressing room, where he collapsed again. College hockey purists went pale at the punch, while NHL scouts leaped out of their seats, and the fight was on for Holmgren. He later signed with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Minnesota came back the next night for the final, but Tech coach John MacInnes had his Huskies ready, and they rocked the Gophers 6-1. "They didn't just beat us, they killed us," said Polich.
There was one more chapter to the Minnesota-Michigan Tech championship showdowns, and it came one year later in the 1976 Final Four. Michigan Tech won the league at 25-7, 34-9 overall, followed by Michigan State (20-12, 23-15-2 overall) and Minnesota (18-13-1, 28-14-2) third. Tom Ross was the league scoring leader with 41-42—83 and an amazing career tally of 138-188—324 in 155 games. The All-America's assists and points stand as MSU's career records. The goal-scoring record? That goes to Steve Colp, his winger, who had 132-168—300 points. Four points separated them and both were deserving All-Americas. But they couldn't deliver Amo Bessone a national championship.
That territory was reserved for Minnesota and Michigan Tech. The league playoffs were historic in the spring of 1974 on their own. The Gophers beat Michigan State in an epic two-game series at shiny new Munn Arena, as the two teams tied 2-2 in the first game, then Minnesota won 7-6 in triple overtime as goaltender Jeff Tscherne kicked out 72 shots for a team record, sending the Gophers to the Final Four, even though the length of the game caused the Gophers to miss their flight home.
In Denver, top Western seed Michigan Tech beat Brown 7-6 in two overtimes, then Minnesota beat Boston University in a nasty, bitter battle, 4-2. A Boston University player exchanged pleasantries with a Gopher near the Minnesota bench, and when further words were exchanged, the BU skater allegedly spit at the Minnesota bench, and hit trainer Gary Smith, who went ballistic. Both benches emptied in a memorable brawl, appropriately right next to the penalty boxes, which were quickly filled. Rick Meagher of BU and future NHL defenseman Russ Anderson of Minnesota were ejected, and BU coach Jackie Parker had trouble even saying the word Minnesota for a decade or two.
In the third straight WCHA showdown masquerading as the NCAA final, Tommy Vannelli, the Gophers clever but diminutive center, led the way for the Gophers, but not right away. Tech came out and got two goals from Warren Young and one by Murray to take a 3-0 lead in the first 10:36. Vannelli's power-play goal got one back before the first period ended, then Vannelli and Reed Larson set up Joe Micheletti to open the second period, Joe Baker tied it 3-3 with Vannelli and Phippen assisting, and Tom Gorence scored to boost Minnesota ahead 4-3, before Tom Goddard tied it in the final minute of the middle period. In the third period, Vannelli and Larson set up Phippen for the tie-breaking goal at 8:37, and the big first line clicked one more time with Vannelli and Phippen setting up Miller at 19:30 for a 6-4 Gopher victory. Vannelli had 1-4–5, Miller 1-1—2, and Phippen 0-4—4 for the 11-point game.
The second Minnesota NCAA title for Brooks, to go with one runner-up finish in his first four years as coach also gained Vannelli the outstanding player in the tournament award, he led the team with 26-43—69 for the season, while his winger, Warren Miller, was second at 26-31—57. Vannelli, who became an exceptional coach at St. Thomas Academy, has the ability to beat you painlessly. He had what Spannbauer called a "choirboy" look, but he was almost unbeatable on face-offs, and when he was through playing, he had registered 69-111—180 in 138 games for Brooks.
Wisconsin had continued to build a powerhouse in Dane County Coliseum through the 1970s, and when Minnesota and Michigan Tech finally took a break from post-season heroics, the Badgers eagerly filled in during the 1976-77 season. Badger Bob Johnson had stockpiled some outstanding players and sellouts that became so routine they had to issue season tickets to students for either Friday or Saturday, and filled up both. Mike Eaves, a superb center, was joined a year later by Mark Johnson, the coach's kid, and defensemen Craig Norwich and John Taft, both from the Minneapolis area, gave the Badgers the most potent power play in college hockey. It carried the slick Badgers to the WCHA title at 26-5-1 and to the national title at 37-7-1.
The Badgers beat New Hampshire 4-3 in overtime while Michigan, led by Dave Debol (34-37—71) defeated BU 6-4 in the other semifinal. Wisconsin won the final 6-5 in overtime. Eaves, Norwich and goalie Julian Baretta were named All-America and Mark Johnson was league freshman of the year.
Brian Walsh and Jack Brownschidle of Notre Dame both were all WCHA and All-America, but the Fighting Irish had to fight their own demons in the playoffs. The Irish, second in the league at 19-10-3 (22-13-3 overall). welcomed Minnesota's rebuilding but seventh-place Gophers to South Bend for a two-game, total-goals set. Notre Dame whipped Minnesota 5-1 in the first game, and took a 2-0 lead top open the second game. At that point, Herb Brooks took off all the restraints on his young Gophers and turned them loose. They started scoring on rushes from all over the ice and sped to a 9-2 romp that added up to a 10-7 total-goals edge.
Wisconsin chased Denver to the finish in the WCHA in 1977-78, but the Pioneers won at 27-5 (33-6-1 overall), to the Badgers 21-9-2 (28-12-3 overall). This time it was Colorado College's turn to shine in the league playoffs, traveling to Williams Arena to oust the Gophers with a 3-3 tie and a 5-4 second game triumph. That sent CC to league champ and arch-rival Denver, where the Tigers won the first game 6-3, which gave them enough of a margin to hold on while Denver won the rematch 4-3. Wisconsin, meanwhile, had power-play partners Mike Eaves and Mark Johnson converting with machine-like precision and they ended up co-leaders in league scoring, with Johnson's 39-31—70 matched by Eaves at 25-45–70. Eaves was league outstanding player while both made both all-WCHA and All-America.
Wisconsin beat UMD in the first round of league playoffs, and stopped Tech 4-3 and 7-4 to gain the No. 1 West seed. In the expanding NCAA tournament scheme, Bowling Green got a shot at Colorado College in the first NCAA play-in game, and beat the Tigers 5-3, and Wisconsin fell 5-3 to BU in the semifinals.
The WCHA returned to its dominant post-season form the following season, which was the 1978-79 year that may have been the single most spectacular season in the WCHA's rich history.
Minnesota defeated WCHA season champion North Dakota 4-3 in the 1979 NCAA final at Detroit's Olympia, and the talent on the ice in that game was mind-boggling. North Dakota had something like 14 players who went on to play in the NHL, while every team in the league bristled with talent.
Brooks had the best of his traditional all-Minnesota roster that included Steve Christoff (38-39—77), Don Micheletti (36-36—72), Neal Broten (21-50—71), Tim Harrer (28-25—53), Eric Strobel (30-22—52), Rob McClanahan (17-32—49), Phil Verchota (18-24–42), Bart Larson (9-33—42), and Steve Ulseth (8-18—26), and that was just among the top forwards. On defense, Billy Baker (12-42—54) plugged in as the fourth-top scorer, and an 18-year-old freshman named Mike Ramsey (7-17—24), led a group of other defensemen such as Mike Greeder (2-12—14), Bob Bergloff (1-11–12) and Joe Baker (0-10—10). With Steve Janaszak (29-10-1) in goal, this was easily the most skilled team Brooks had in his seven years at the helm.
Off that team, Brooks selected Christoff, Verchota, Broten, Strobel, McClanahan, Baker, Ramsey and Janaszak to embark with him in quest of the 1980 Gold Medal, and added recent grad Buzzy Schneider as a ninth Gopher. He also chose Mark Johnson and Bob Suter from Wisconsin, center David Christian from North Dakota — who he immediately switched to defense to provide a key puck-rusher — and UMD teammates and linemates Mark Pavelich and John Harrington. That's 14 players from the WCHA that formed the basis for the 1980 Team USA.
Of course, decades in hockey don't just stop and start, they overlap, which can make all-decade teams difficult if not impossible to assemble. The advancement of the Golden Gophers from the end of the 1960s to the end of the 1970s, however, was perhaps the most significant upgrade of any college program. Back at the end of the 1970s, the Golden Gophers had never won a national championship, while big rivals like Michigan, North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College and Michigan State had impressively filled trophy cases.
Small wonder, since the WCHA powers had full complements of 15 or 20 scholarships to hand out, while at Minnesota, Gopher coach Glen Sonmor had worked to increase his available scholarship total from three up to six, to be divided up among four years worth of players. The legacy of John Mariucci, and disciples like Sonmor and his assistant Herb Brooks, prevailed in an unusual way. Minnesota was the only Division 1 hockey program in the state, and the burgeoning state high school hockey teams were turning out more and more high-quality players, and all of them knew if they went to Minnesota they would get a chance to play, so Gopher tryouts were mob scenes, and the junior varsity — which most other teams couldn't imagine having — was overloaded with assorted all-conference players looking for a chance to play.
Some of the most competitive games Minnesota had were intrasquads, especially when freshmen couldn't play varsity. Star goaltender Murray McLachlan was an All-America to be, but as a non-playing freshman he would stifle the varsity in scrimmages while Sonmor rotated less-skilled goalies on the varsity, at one point experimenting with changing goalies every time an opponent scored, which led to almost a change-on-the-fly parallel to the forward lines.
In 1969-70, Minnesota found the good-news/bad-news scenario to send them into the new decade. McLachlan was league MVP, first team all-WCHA and All-America, and the Gophers went 18-8 (21-12 overall) and won the WCHA league title over Denver, Michigan Tech, Wisconsin and North Dakota. But in the league playoffs in Duluth, after beating UMD 3-2 in three overtimes, the Gophers lost 6-5 to Michigan Tech for the right to go to the NCAA tournament. Worse, their arch-rival upstart University of Wisconsin rose from a fourth-place WCHA finish to reach the NCAA Final Four — as it was called then — in, of all places, Lake Placid, N.Y., a blow to the proud Minnesota program.
The 1970-71 season got the decade off to a strong start, as 5-foot-8 center Mike Antonovich, a three-year state tournament star at Greenway of Coleraine, came in as a freshman and lit the Gophers offensive fuse immediately. The old John Mariucci concept of Minnesota high school players deserving NCAA rule revisions to level the surface for 18-year-old Minnesotans having to face 21-year-old Canadian freshmen was evident immediately to Antonovich, who watched UMD's Keith (Huffer) Christiansen take on some ageless and experienced foes and become a standout.
In fact, while Christiansen was earning Player of the Decade accolades for the 1960s, one of the other forward selections was Ben Cherski, an exceptional player at North Dakota who set a freshman scoring record to start his career. In his first of four seasons in Grand Forks, Cherski turned 22 in early October of his freshman year. Antonovich didn't know or care about such circumstances.
"The first time I went on the ice in a game for Minnesota, I was still 17 years old," Antonovich recalled. "A guy on the other team skated by and he had a beard and looked like he was about 30. I thought, 'What am I doing here?' "
The talent on the Gopher roster was a mixed blend, and most have remained friends for life. "My first year, my wings were Larry Paradise and Mike Kurtz," said Antonovich, with a laugh. "I called them 'Slow and Slower.' We also had Craig Sarner and Wally Olds, who played on the 1972 Olympic team, and Dean Blais, Johnny Harris, John Matschke, and Pat Westrum and Stevie Ross."
Before that 1970-71 season, Sonmor confided that Minnesota would probably not contend for the league title, but believed the Gophers had the ingredients for a run at the national tournament. Sonmor was convincing, and the promise started showing through.
Dean Blais, a future pro and legendary coach later on, and John Matschke, a clever sniper who became a legendary insurance salesman in White Bear Lake, played on Antonovich's wings. Sarner led a balanced attack, and the defense included All-America Olds, swift-striking Bruce McIntosh, a walk-on regular named Doug Falls, and a rugged pair in giant Frank Sanders and rugged freshman Bill Butters. Goaltending was by committee, until Sonmor chose Dennis Erickson, a quiet, thoughtful kid from Duluth East, to carry the load.
That team went 14-17-2 overall, but, just as Sonmor predicted, played its best at the end and tore through the1971 playoffs, beating Wisconsin 4-3 in the WCHA East Regional in Madison, and knocking off North Dakota 5-2, to earn a trip to Syracuse, N.Y., for the NCAA Final Four. Minnesota had never won an NCAA title, while a few dignitaries were penciled in for the traveling party, assistant coach Herb Brooks was told they could not afford to take him.
The Gophers had an unpredictable tendency to rally from behind in the third period to win, and in the semifinals they scored three goals in the last two minutes, tying a stunned Harvard team in the final seconds of regulation, then beating the Crimson 6-5 in overtime. In the championship game, the magic eluded them, and Boston University, coached by Jack Kelley, won 4-2.
Next morning, as we trooped through the airport concourse for the flight back to Minnesota, Sonmor fell in step, gesturing ahead to Erickson, who was walking behind other players with a distinct limp. "Look at him," said Sonmor. "He didn't play his best last night, so now he's limping, just to try to get some sympathy."
After we got back to Minneapolis, Erickson went in for x-rays, which showed he had played the entire championship game with a fractured kneecap suffered in the first period. Sonmor, to his credit, ridiculed himself for accusing Erickson of trying to get sympathy, and praised the courage it took to play through such intense pain.
Next, the Gophers learned that Herb Brooks had resigned as assistant, obviously perturbed about being left off the tournament trip. Brooks accepted the job to coach the St. Paul Vulcans, a new junior hockey team. The next season was one of great turmoil as the 1971-72 Gophers sagged at the start, with the mercurial Antonovich knocked out with an early injury, and Brooks was learning first hand that skill and style wouldn't help his junior team against the experienced and intimidating team from Thunder Bay, so he added several tough players who later wound up wearing Gopher jerseys.
In midseason of that 1971-72 term, Sonmor got the opportunity to leave the university and start the Minnesota Fighting Saints in the newly formed World Hockey Association, and he took Antonovich with him and created a franchise that became the wild and crazy basis, along with its Johnstown Jets farm club, for the movie "Slap Shot." At the University of Minnesota, athletic director Paul Giel consulted his old football teammate, Ken Yackel, about replacing Sonmor, and while Yackel urged him to hire Brooks, Giel talked Yackel into coaching on an interim basis for the rest of that season. The Gophers finished 7-21 in league play and 8-24 overall, dead last in the WCHA, while Denver beat out Wisconsin, North Dakota, Michigan Tech and UMD for the title. Denver and Wisconsin made it to the Final Four, but both lost in the semifinals in Boston.
Denver won its second straight WCHA title in 1972-73, going 20-8 (29-9-1 overall) beating Notre Dame and Wisconsin in the league race, behind goaltender Ron Grahame, forwards Peter McNab and Rob Palmer, and defenseman Bruce Affleck. But Badger Bob Johnson's Wisconsin outfit swept Minnesota 8-6, 6-4 to end rookie coach Herb Brooks's season in Madison, then went to Notre Dame and knocked off a loaded Fighting Irish team with a 4-3 victory after a 4-4 tie in the total-goals set. Notre Dame had the league scoring leader in Eddie Bumbacco (31-34—65) and a stalwart defense led by Bill Nyrop. Top-seeded Denver reached the Final Four by beating UMD 5-4, 4-2, and eliminated Michigan Tech by following a 3-3 tie as league MVP Grahame posted a 4-0 shutout in Denver.
Denver thrashed Boston University 10-4 in the semifinals at Boston, while Wisconsin squeezed past Cornell 6-5 in overtime. But in the final, Jim Makey came through in goal and a lanky center named Dean Talafous led the Badgers to a 4-2 upset and the 1973 national championship. Talafous went on to a solid NHL career with the home state Minnesota North Stars, and Bob Johnson won his first NCAA trophy.
After that, Wisconsin won the league (26-5-1, 37-7-1 overall) and NCAA titles in 1976-77 when goalie Julian Baretta, forward Mike Eaves and defenseman Craig Norwich were All-America and they slipped by Michigan in a 6-5 overtime NCAA final in Detroit, and the potent Badgers reached the Final Four again in 1978, but the decade was taken over by the rising tide of Minnesota, with its NCAA titles in 1974, 1976 and 1979, and its runner-up finish to Michigan Tech in 1975.
North Dakota also made a convincing rise to return to WCHA prominence by outdueling Minnesota for the league title before losing the national final 4-3 to the same Gophers in Detroit in 1979. Gino Gasparini had built up a steady stream of outstanding talent that came right back and repeated as WCHA champs in 1979-80 and beat Northern Michigan 5-2 in the 1980 NCAA final in Providence, R.I., to end the decade.
Bob Iwabuchi, the goaltender victimized by the diving Neal Broten's chip shot goal to win the final in Detroit in 1979, was the league-leading goalie and tournament hero for the Fighting Sioux in 1980, and forward Doug Smail was tournament outstanding player and he and Phil Sykes and defenseman Marc Chorney were all-tournament. Forward Mark Taylor and defenseman Howard Walker both represented North Dakota on first team all-WCHA and All-America teams.
Minnesota honored the contributions to the 1980 U.S. Olympic team by finishing second to North Dakota in the 1979-80 campaign, under Brad Buetow, who moved up from assistant to replace Brooks. The cupboard was hardly bare, as Tim Harrer was leading scorer (45-24—69 in 32 games) and also won league MVP honors, and Don Micheletti and Steve Ulseth had big years. A freshman from Roseau, Minnesota, Aaron Broten, was named freshman of the year while his brother, Neal, was winning a Gold Medal, and Buetow was coach of the year.
Going through old notes and notebooks from the decade of the 1970s shows the unexcelled talent in the WCHA, and a random filing showed the 1978-79 WCHA scoring statistics, as well as the overall Minnesota stats. Compared to the tight, close-checking parity seen in the competitive college hockey two decades into the 2000s, the numbers are startling.
The stars are all there, including Mark Johnson, Lee Grauer, Theran Welsh and Scott Lecy from Wisconsin; Mark Pavelich, John Harrington, Dan Lempe, Bill Oleksuk and Curt Giles from UMD; Kevin Maxwell, Taylor, Smail, Cary Eades, Rick Zaparniuk and David Christian from North Dakota; Dave Poulin, Greg Meredith, Ted Weltzin and Steve Schneider from Notre Dame; Gord Salt, Rick Boehm, Glen Merkosky, Greg Hay and Rodger Moy from Michigan Tech; Neal Broten, Steve Christoff, Don Micheletti, Bill Baker, Eric Strobel, Tim Harrer, Rob McClanahan and Phil Verchota from Minnesota; Mark Miller and Tim Manning of Michigan; Bruce Aikens, Dave Feamster and Dave Delich from Colorado College; Russ Welch of Michigan State; Glenn Anderson, Mark Davidson, Alex Belcourt and Greg Woods of Denver.
My favorite trivia question points out how deep the talent ran in that 1978-79 season, and it is: Name the league scoring champion from that year.
The answer is Dave Delich, from eighth place CC, whose 25-45—70 beat out Mark Johnson's 28-41—69, Mark Pavelich's 23-40—63, and all the rest.
Sixteen of those players among those top 50 WCHA scorers scored over 20 goals in league games, led by Gord Salt of Michigan Tech, who had 30. Tim Harrer, one year before leading the league in scoring, had 19-21—40 for 1978-79 statistics, which ranked him 27th in WCHA points, and sixth on the Gophers.
That's what makes the 1970s the WCHA's "Decade of the Decades."