Duluth Connections

Duluth Connections

Paul Braun (Wisconsin men's hockey play-by-play)

How does a pink locker room, Black Sunday, the Back-Door Badgers, a coaching clinic and Duluth all fit together?

It was the 1980-81 season for the Wisconsin Badgers.

The squad was coming of a 15-20-1 record and Bob Johnson’s first losing season in 14 years as coach.  The lone bright spots were defenseman Theran Welsh and goaltender Roy Schultz, who were named All Americans. Unfortunately for the Badgers, Schultz decided to turn pro.

That meant that sophomore Marc Behrend and freshman Terry Kleisinger would be competing with Jamey Gremore for playing time.

Defensively the team looked solid with Welsh, Jay McFarland, Pat Ethier, Jeff Andringa, and Randy Kellar.

Up front they moved Scott Lecy to center, and he was joined by his brother Todd Lecy, Peter Johnson, Eddie Lebler, Dan Gorowsky, Ron Vincent, Jon Morgan and Ken Keryluk.

Johnson said in order for the team to be successful they would need solid contributions from the freshmen. He got it from players like John Johannson, Brian Mullen, John Newberry, Ted Pearson and Scott Sabo.

Wisconsin finished the regular season 23-13 overall and in second place in the WCHA with a 17-11 record. 
Wisconsin played Colorado College in the first round of the WCHA playoffs at the Dane County Memorial Coliseum.

The Badgers manhandled the Tigers the first night 8-2. At that point everyone involved with the program started looking forward to the next round.

Fans started talking about who they would play next. The media – my self included - started thinking about travel plans. The players celebrated after the game.

The only problem was Coach Jeff Sauer and the Tigers were not done yet.

Colorado College came back on Sunday and whipped the Badgers, 11-4, to win the two game total goal series, 13-12.    

Badger coaches, players, fans, and the media were stunned. Just like that the season was over.

Not so fast. After the game Jeff Sauer said, "you watch, the Badgers will be invited back into the playoffs."

Jeff was right.

Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson, who was known for having a lot of influence and political clout in college hockey, pleaded his case to the NCAA selection committee.

Back in those days they did not have Pairwise Rankings and other specific criteria to select teams. Sometimes decisions were made based on financial reasons and fan support. That put Wisconsin in a good position because of their history of a big fan base that followed the club.

Bob’s lobbying was effective and the Badgers were in the playoffs.     

After beating Clarkson 9-8 in the two-game total-goal series on the road, Wisconsin advanced to the Frozen Four in Duluth.

Minnesota, Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech were also in the field.

One of the oddities of the Duluth Arena was the visitors locker room was painted pink. I guess they were trying to get the teams to feel tranquil, peaceful, calm or quiet.

Despite the passive color, the Badgers played well and beat Northern Michigan, 5-1. That set up the classic battle for the title - Minnesota versus Wisconsin.

The Gophers came into the tournament with a 31-11. They were loaded with talent. They had Aaron and Neal Broten, Steve Ulseth and Butsy Erickson. Those four players alone would score 356 points that season, including 106 by Aaron Broten. Neal Broten would later be named the first recipient of the Hobey Baker Award.

Despite being out-manned, Badger Bob put together a game strategy that almost completely shut down the high-flying Gophers.

Dan Gorowsky, Ed Lebler, and John Newberry all scored first period goals to give the Badgers a 3-0 lead.

During the first intermission I heard several coaches and some scouts talking. One of them said the coaching clinic is on and the game is over. He was right.

Wisconsin went on to win 6-3 and claim the championship.

After being invited back into the playoffs the Badgers had knocked off all three Division I league champs in Clarkson, Northern Michigan and Minnesota to win the university's and Bob Johnson's third NCAA Frozen Four Championship.

That also gave Wisconsin the title of “Back Door Badgers.”


Appears in Paul Braun's Reckonings

Tagged with Men's Hockey Blog, Paul Braun, Back-Door Badgers, Duluth

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