1989 NCAA Champion

1989 NCAA Champion

Harvard 'Shocks the World,' Downs Minnesota 4-3 in Overtime to win 1989 NCAA Title

Peter Ciavaglia, perhaps the best faceoff man ever at Harvard, routinely won a draw in the Gopher zone. Krayer stepped into the left circle and laid a pass back to freshman Brian McCormack, who quickly sent a low shot netward, where Stauber made a pad save. Then, time stood still.

There was a rebound. It was there as clear as day for all to see. Weisbrod tried to get to it, but couldn't. He was being dragged down by a Minnesota defenseman. Finally, Krayer appeared.

He was cool, carrying the puck an extra stride across the crease, before sliding his backhander slowly toward its destination. Victory, like no other Harvard had ever experienced in athletics, had been achieved as the puck made its way across the line into the net.

-- Jeff Bradley, Harvard News & Views, April 1989

Everyone knew Bill Cleary had a skilled team in 1989. Developed in the mold of its mentor--a former All-American, two-time Olympian and noted hockey purist who has always emphasized the fundamentals--the Cleary-led Crimson was a collection of pure skaters, deft puckhandlers, and expert passers.

The only problem was, finesse teams didn't win national championships.

Or so the hockey world thought.

Harvard's clean, open-ice style of play may not have endeared the Crimson to hockey followers out West, where eastern hockey had long been dismissed as a softer version of the game. But midway through the 1988-89 campaign, Harvard had forced everyone in the country to take notice. A convincing 5-1 thumping of previously unbeaten St. Lawrence on Jan. 14 launched Harvard to a perfect 15-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the land.

The 15-0 mark matched the school's best start to a season since the 1930s. If that wasn't indication enough that 1989 was a special season in Harvard hockey, the Crimson's first Beanpot championship in eight years--clinched that February--surely hinted that this Crimson team was heading towards something extraordinary.

Harvard's top scoring line in 1989--dubbed the Crimson's `Line of Fire' -- remains arguably the best ever in school history, featuring team captain Lane MacDonald, Allen Bourbeau and C.J. Young. MacDonald, the Hobey Baker Award winner in his senior season, and Bourbeau, also a Hobey finalist that year, had both played for the U.S. Olympic Team in Calgary in 1988. Young, along with fellow forwards Peter Ciavaglia and Ted Donato, would go on to play in the 1992 Olympics.

Led by that core of offensive stars and the rookie goaltending tandem of Allain Roy and Chuckie Hughes, the Crimson entered the playoffs with a 24-2 record, good for the ECAC regular season championship.

The conference tournament, however, brought a stinging shock. In the seminfinals, Harvard dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to Vermont. The Crimson won its ensuing consolation match against Cornell, but the echoes of its jarring loss to Vermont were still ringing in its ears. It was, to say the least, a sobering defeat for a team with visions as grand as Harvard's.

But while some teams never recover after falling back to Earth, the great teams learn from the experience and find a way to rally back. To this day, Cleary still maintains that the loss to Vermont was precisely the dose of reality his team needed as it geared up for its championship run.

Harvard faced as tough a challenge as one could imagine to start the NCAA Tournament, facing off against defending champ Lake Superior State in the best-of-three quarterfinals. But after securing a 4-2 victory in the series opener, Harvard was able to complete the sweep in the second game, as Ciavaglia pulled off a hat trick to guide Harvard to a come-from-behind 5-2 win. In his postgame remarks, Laker coach Frank Anzalone, who had served on the Hobey Baker selection committee, admitted that the group had committed a gaffe in not naming Ciavaglia as a finalist.

Hobey consideration may have been nice, but Ciavaglia had other matters to attend to--namely Michigan State, the Crimson's semifinal round opponent. Against the Spartans, Ciavaglia racked up a goal and three assists as Harvard exploded for six goals and Roy made the lead stand up.

The rookie, who finished with 30 saves to earn All-Tournament recognition, made at least two positively breathtaking saves, including a sprawling stick save on a wraparound effort by Michigan State's Bobby Reynolds in the first period. The Crimson rolled, 6-3, setting the stage for a clash of the titans in the championship game against Minnesota.

Playing in St. Paul, the Crimson wore their home white uniforms, but there was no doubt that the Golden Gophers owned the home-ice advantage. The pro-Minnesota crowd erupted early in the first period, when the Gophers drew first blood. But Harvard came storming back in the second, as Donato scored on a power play with a slap shot to tie the game.

Roy had been the hero against Michigan State, but in the championship, it was Hughes' turn in the Crimson's two-goalie rotation. The local product played beyond his years, as his 33 saves on the night kept the game knotted at two until late in the third period. Then, with seven minutes to play, Donato scored a second time to give Harvard a 3-2 lead.

But as his teammates mobbed him in celebration, the cool-headed Donato, who would be named the tournament MVP, was reminding his teammates, "This one's not over!" Indeed, Minnesota would not go quietly into the night. With just under five minutes to play, the Golden Gophers capitalized on a Harvard penalty to knot the score at three apiece. This epic battle was now headed to sudden-death overtime.

Early in the extra period, Minnesota pushed Harvard to the brink of defeat, ringing a would-be game-winning blast off the post of the Crimson goal. But hearing what was almost its own death knell, the Crimson rallied back to life. A face off in the Minnesota zone. Ciavaglia, perhaps the best draw man Harvard has ever had, tapped the puck to Ed Krayer, who fed a pass to freshman Brian McCormack. The freshman unleashed a low shot that bounced off the pad of Minnesota goalie Robb Stauber.

The rebound was loose. Finally, Krayer appeared and was able to corral the puck. Krayer, the senior veteran who had taken 1988 off from school, had struggled throughout much of 1989 to rediscover his niche on the team, finishing the regular season with just 14 points. In the playoffs, however, he reemerged as a leader - and now, on the grandest of stages, he was poised to make sure history would never forget his name. In what appeared like slow motion, Krayer slid the puck through the legs of the diving Stauber and across the goal line. Victory belonged to the Crimson by the count of 4-3.

All at once, Harvard gained its first NCAA championship in any team sport and most of those, in attendance, as well as any remaining skeptics of eastern hockey, fell into a state of deafening quiet.

The scene immediately following Krayer's goal was priceless. In one of the more enduring, utterly heartwearming images from that magical night in Minneapolis, here was Cleary, with his face aglow and arms aloft, scrambling across the ice desperately looking for someone to hug.

The coach eventually found his players, huddled together in celebration. But what Cleary found in that joyous mob was more than just great hockey players; it was, in fact, a band of pure salt-of-the-earth types, a team that all of Harvard--and indeed, all of hockey--could take pride in.

He found MacDonald, the soft-spoken captain who played his entire career through chronic migraines that eventually impaired his vision. Bourbeau, the sixth-year senior who, Cleary once joked, had been around so long he'd probably played with Hobey Baker. He found Ciavaglia, whose play was so selfless that the Harvard coaches were constantly ordering him to shoot more; then Hughes, the irrepressible freshman and the son of a Boston police officer. He found Donato, who had turned down full scholarships to other schools for the chance to play at Harvard, where he worked part-time in the equipment room to help pay for his tuition.

Cleary had won with a roster of kids who were students first, athletes second. They had won the title the hard way, facing the best three teams the West had to offer. As one astute Harvard observer noted, "the league with the reputation for being the toughest in college hockey was not tough enough in 1989."

And they did it all by virtue of their speed and skill, without clutching and grabbing, proving that hockey as it was meant to be played would never go out of style.

"Now hockey has a new set of heroes," wrote David Nyhan '62 of the Boston Globe three days after Harvard clinched the title. "What Cleary did for these kids and the world at large was to show them how a gentleman can take a squad of students and make them national champions. College athletics had forgotten that."

In the hotel lobby after the game, Cleary stood atop a coffee table amid a crowd of Harvard fans that had made the trip to Minneapolis. Reveling in what remains Harvard's crowning team achievement, Cleary raised the championship trophy and proclaimed through his boyish grin, "This isn't just for the hockey team, this is for every Harvard alumnus in the country... in the world."