Whenever Wisconsin plays Michigan and Michigan State in hockey, it triggers some fond memories for me.
The biggest being Steve Alley’s goal 23 seconds in overtime to give the Badgers a 6-5 win over the Michigan Wolverines at Olympia Stadium in Detroit. That victory not only gave the Badgers their second NCAA Frozen Four Championship, but a school record of 37 wins for the season.
Other thoughts that quickly surface are Amo Bessone and Robbie Moore. Badger fans just loved those two guys.
Moore was a goaltender for Michigan. He liked playing against the Badgers. I can still see him sitting on top of his net dangling his feet and waiving at the crowd while the teams were fighting at the other end of the rink. He also gave his goalie stick to a Badger fan and that did not sit to well with Coach Dan Farrell.
Bessone was the Head Coach at Michigan State.
Defensemen John Sturges, who played for Amo, called him the Godfather. He described him as an old time hockey coach who was not only very loyal to his players, but he did a great job taking the pressure off the team by putting the focus on himself.
The Bessone trademark was a stogie in the mouth and whistling to change lines during a hockey game.
Sturges said Amo had bad knees and sometimes he would sit on a chair by the end of the bench and whistle when he wanted a line change. I asked him if it worked?
John chuckled and said Bessone thought so, but it really didn’t.
When Amo whistled the Badger fans whistled back. Then Mike Leckrone and the Badger Band would get into the act. Mike said all the clarinet players took the mouth pieces off their instruments and the sound they produced was a weird high pitched tone that was meant to confuse the Spartans and Amo’s whistling. At the same time the crowds would chant A-MO...A-MO.
Back in those days the public address announcer at the Dane County Coliseum was my former broadcast partner Phil Mendel. Long-time hockey fans will never forget Phil’s dulcet tones and his famous “good evening hockey fans”.
In Bessone’s last year of coaching, Phil convinced Amo to come over to the official’s table and talk with Badger fans on the public address system. Phil did that because Wisconsin fans had sent a lot of letters and cards to Amo after his wife had passed away. Bessone was quoted as saying he was overwhelmed by the feedback and support he received from the Badgers fans.
Some of Phil’s other memories of Bessone were of the coaches' modesty when the team won, his sportsmaship when they lost, his carrying the skate sharpener and sticks to the bus just like the players and his banging a goalie stick on the dasher boards to get the officials attention.
Mendel said that Amo told him his biggest disappointment in 31 years of coaching was that he did not win the WCHA championship. According to Bessone, that was tougher then winning the Spartans first NCAA championship, which his team did in 1966.
At the same time it was not all just showmanship for Amo and Spartans. On the ice, Bessone had one line that may have been the most prolific scoring unit in college hockey history.
The line was Tom Ross, Steve Colp, and Daryl Rice. Those three players alone scored 366 goals and 850 points in their careers at Michigan State. Add in defenseman John Sturges and you had 443 goals and 1,079 points.
As impressive as the point total is, the other astonishing stat was that between those four players alone, they scored more then 200 power-play goals. That’s almost unbelievable.
When I asked Sturges who was the fifth member of the power-play unit, he said it didn’t matter. He said it could have been the hockey manager and we were still going to score.
Sturges, who played the point on the power play, said the key was they worked everything down low and to the left side. Since Colp, Rice, and Sturges were all from Toronto and Ross was from Detroit, they all knew each other. They also knew what to expect from one another when they were on the ice.
Neil Koepke is a Sportswriter for the Lansing State Journal. Today he follows his passion and love of college hockey by writing about Michigan State hockey. Back then he was a writer for the Ann Arbor News and he saw the Spartans play four times a year.
Neil called Bessone a colorful character and a showman who was well respected by other coaches and people in college hockey.
He described Amo’s top line as Armageddon. He said their skill in passing, shooting and handling the puck was amazing. Neal remembers they would just fly into the zone and use their abilities and skills to create great scoring opportunities.
Even though it’s more then 30 years ago, I sill can rattle off the names of Ross, Colp, Rice and Sturges, when I think about great power play units. It’s also fitting that they played for one of the true legends of college hockey - Amo Bessone.