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'We kept coming back:' Dramatic '73 title put Badgers on the map


1973 NCAA Champions

Jan. 25, 2013

This flashback on Wisconsin's 1973 NCAA championship was excerpted from Mike Lucas' book "Five Golden Rings: The Saga of Wisconsin Hockey." It was published in 1998, before the Badgers added a sixth national title in 2006.

D

ick Perkins strode out of the locker room like a gun slinger looking for his next fight. A red cowboy hat with a white W was tucked snugly over his ears. A red corsage adorned his coat lapel. Sighing, he said, "I'm going to go out and relax and take it easy a little bit. It was a very emotional game. Believe me when I say that. It was very emotional tonight.''

Perkins, one of the fiercest competitors to ever don a goalie mask at Wisconsin, was tapped out emotionally. But he was not down and out and neither were his Wisconsin teammates. When they were down by four goals some may have counted them out, but the Badgers showed their resiliency and resourcefulness by bouncing back to stun Cornell, 6-5, in overtime.

The dramatic come-from-behind victory in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament at the Boston Garden advanced Wisconsin into the national championship game against Denver. "I'll be honest with you,'' said Perkins, reflecting on the spirited and improbable rally against Cornell, "It wasn't a very good feeling to be behind by as much as we were. But we kept coming back.''

The Badgers scored the last four goals of the game with Dean Talafous producing the tying goal with five seconds left in regulation and the winning goal with 33 seconds left in the overtime. The Mad Stork. That's what the Eastern press dubbed Talafous. "God saves ... but Talafous scores on the rebound.'' That's what the sign said, and Talafous made believers out of everyone.

•  •  •  •

W

isconsin assistant coach Jeff Rotsch could piece together a scouting report on Cornell and the Boston Garden based on his own personal experiences. Rotsch was a defenseman on a UW team that lost, 2-1, to the Big Red in the semifinals of the 1970 NCAA tournament in Lake Placid, N.Y. As a senior co-captain, he led the Badgers back to the semifinals where they lost to Boston University at the Garden.

Rotsch had a firm working knowledge of the sideboards and how the old rink narrowed sharply past the blue line into an oval and how the puck traveled at a much faster speed along the lively boards. There were no corners to speak of. In addition, he knew that No.1 seed Cornell, unbeaten in its last 13 games, had one of the most aggressive forechecking teams in college hockey.

"They'll dump the puck and come at you like 100 mosquitoes,'' Rotsch pointed out. "They really forecheck hard and they're just always on top of you, especially their forwards. You know what it's like? It's like playing against 12 Tim Dools -- everyone give 100 percent all the time when they're out there.''

Dool was a component of the fabled Freshman Line that also featured Max Bentley and Norm Cherrey. Now all seniors, they were making their third appearance together in the Final Four. Here's how Talafous described Dool, "He would go in the corners and jump in the air and take the hit and even when they dropped him to the ice his feet would still be moving and he'd pop up and take off again. He inspired everybody because he played with such enthusiasm and with such a big heart.''

So you could imagine "12 Tim Dools'' on the Cornell forecheck which was bound to put a lot of pressure on Wisconsin's young defensive corps. Bob Lundeen, a sophomore, was the only defender with any real experience. Dave Arundel and Tom Machowski were rough and raw. They were the muscle. But they had to learn under fire. So did the freshmen: John Taft, who was silky smooth, and Jack Johnson.

"It should be a fast game,'' Rotsch predicted, "and we can't afford to be sloppy.''

Forty seconds after the opening faceoff, the Badgers trailed 1-0 when Doug Marrett deflected a shot over Perkins. The Big Red added another score eight minutes later when Paul Perras shot the puck off the boards and knocked in his own rebound past an overextended Perkins, who had committed himself and was out of position in the crease. The second period was almost a carbon copy of the first.

Perkins was beaten by a slap shot just 31 seconds into the period. At 4:30, Cornell made it 4-0. "It was a very strange feeling to look up at the scoreboard because we've never been down by so many goals,'' said Cherrey, who was nursing an injury and didn't start with Dool and Bentley. Instead, Talafous opened on right wing, while coach Bob Johnson used Cherrey in spots, namely special teams.

The Badgers finally got on the board at 12:03 of the second period when Cherrey scored on the power play. "We knew that we had to find a way to get back into the game quickly,'' said Cherrey, adding that he wasn't even thinking about his injured foot while skating. "Let's put it this way, it hurt a lot more when we were behind. But once we started scoring goals, it felt pretty good.''

At 8:28, Dennis Olmstead made it 4-2 with a pretty backhander past Big Red goalie Dave Elenbaas. The assist went to Stan Hinkley; the first of his four assists. Cornell, though, opened the third period like it had the first and second -- with a quick goal. This one came at the 40-second mark and the Badgers were now down, 5-2. "It would have been easy to quit right then,'' Cherrey said.

But this Wisconsin team had come too far to go down without putting up a fight. That message was officially delivered by Gary Winchester who scored at 8:16 of the third period. At 16:29, Jimmy Johnston made it 5-4. The only question then was whether the Badgers would run out of time. With 50 seconds left in regulation, still down a goal, Johnson pulled Perkins in favor of a sixth attacker.

Stan Hinckley
Stan Hinckley celebrates Dean Talafous' game-winning goal in the 1973 national semifinal against Cornell.

There were several near misses before Talafous skated onto the stage for his last-second heroics. Lundeen got the puck back into the offensive zone after Cornell managed to break the pressure and cleared it out. A second clearing attempt by the Big Red failed when Hinkley got in its path. Olmstead stepped in and shot -- Talafous stepped up and scored on the rebound, tying the game, 5-5.

"Their goalie went down on his knees,'' Talafous said, "and he didn't have a chance.''

Two minutes into overtime, the Big Red got the first scoring chance. Don Ceci and Perras raced in alone on Perkins -- an unheard of 2-on-0 break. But Perkins cut down the angle and Ceci faked a shot before firing and missing the cage. "It wasn't a smart play on his part to deke in a situation like that,'' Perkins said. "With the ice bogged down like it was, and it was pretty torn up, he should have shot.''

Asked what he was thinking when he looked up and saw Ceci and Perras bearing down on the goal crease, Perkins said, "It's better if you don't think in a situation like that. You just react.''

That's what Talafous did on the game-winner -- he reacted with poise when Elenbaas gave up another rebound. "Olmstead dug the puck out of the corner and passed it to Steve Alley,'' said Talafous, picking up the play-by-play. "Alley shot, the goalie made a save and the puck went off to the side and I knocked it in. A lot of people figured we were out of the game in the first period but we never gave up.''

Bring on Denver, a 10-4 win over Boston College in the other semifinal.

On the national championship scoreboard, it was a mismatch: Cornell 5, Wisconsin 0.

"But that's exactly what we wanted,'' Bob Johnson bellowed, "an all-West final.''

Their last meeting in early January had produced memorable hockey with each team coming away with a one-goal victory. Coincidentally, the series was staged at a neutral site, the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs. "Like ourselves,'' opined Denver's venerable coach Murray Armstrong, "Wisconsin's success will probably depend on whether or not they get good goaltending.''

Armstrong had perfected the art of sandbagging. When he wasn't citing the youth of his players, he was lamenting injuries. But he did suggest Wisconsin had been the best team that the Pioneers had faced that season. Fittingly, the Badgers went out and proved that they were the No. 1 team in the country. On a great day for hockey -- St. Patrick's Day -- no luck was involved, Irish or otherwise.

After both teams traded goals in the first period -- Dave Pay scored for Wisconsin and Jim Miller for Denver -- the Pioneers took a 2-1 lead at the 54-second mark of the second period when Rich Preston converted on the power play against goalie Jim Makey, who was Perkins' tag team partner in the net.

But the Badgers countered quickly with a power play of their own as Cherrey and Bentley assisted on Dool's goal which tied the game at 4:17 of the second period. Less than five minutes later, Talafous punctuated his MVP performance by getting what would turn out to be the game-winning goal on assists from Lundeen and Don Deprez. Johnston capped the scoring with a third period goal.

Wisconsin, thus, became the first team since 1965 to win the national championship after playing in the Friday night round of the NCAA tournament. Even though Denver had the extra day of rest, it was not a factor to the Badgers. "We could have beaten anybody Saturday night in the finals,'' Cherrey boasted, "because we were still so high after our victory over Cornell from the night before.''

1973 NCAA championship welcome celebration
"We're bringing the No. 1 trophy home to the No. 1 fans in the country," Tim Dool told the 8,000 fans that packed the UW Field House to welcome home the champions.

Even though the famed State Street Pub in Boston -- a haven and heaven for Badger fans the year before -- was now history, rubble, the faithful had no trouble finding watering holes to party. In the Garden district, the Horse Lounge swayed to the strong vibes of "Varsity." So did Mother's, another local pub. They were also turning people away at the Hockey Bar which was filled to the rafters.

The grandest and loudest reception was saved for Madison, where nearly 8,000 people gathered at the UW Field House to formally welcome back their hockey heroes on Sunday. Dool spoke on behalf of his teammates. "We're bringing the No. 1 trophy home,'' he said, his voice cracking with emotion, "to the No. 1 fans in the country. You never let us down and we're still flying high.''

Years later, the Mad Stork -- aka Talafous -- reflected on the season and the championship. "I'm always running into people who tell me, `We were there in '73,''' he said. "None of my pro experiences (in the NHL) compared with it (an NCAA title). What I learned is that when you get 20 guys together who really care about each other and have a common goal, you can accomplish anything.''

ON WISCONSIN
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