PITTSBURGH — The last time an ECAC team brought home the NCAA championship was in 1989, when Harvard had its own magical ride.
The Sons of Bill Cleary ran their record to 31-3 with an overtime win over Minnesota in the Gophers’ backyard in St. Paul.
It was the same year Harvard won the Beanpot Tournament, the same year the Crimson started the season 15-0-0.
The team was carried by a pair of rookie goaltenders, Chuckie Hughes and Allain Roy, and the best line in the nation — dubbed “The Line Of Fire’’ — featuring Hobey Baker winner Lane MacDonald, Hobey finalist Allen Bourbeau, and C.J. Young. One of the country’s top faceoff men — Peter Ciavaglia — was a key cog in the Crimson wheel.
Freshman Ted Donato, now the Harvard coach, scored a pair of goals in the title game and was named most valuable player of the NCAA Tournament.
Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon was also a rookie on that team. Both Donato and Sneddon said that group has remained remarkably close for the past quarter-century.
“I have a lot of great memories,’’ said Donato. “For most, if not all, of the players on that team, it was the most memorable sports achievement. That team has remained very, very tight. Winning it solidified that and a lot guys have gone on to do great things in all different areas of life and areas of business. But I think that is one bond that remains very, very close.’’
The key was the return of MacDonald and Bourbeau for their senior seasons after representing Team USA in the Calgary Olympics.
“When you add the Hobey Baker winner and a great leader and world-class talent like Lane and Allen Bourbeau along with the talented freshmen, it really was the difference,’’ said Donato.
Having two ECAC teams in this year’s title game may have surprised some people, but Donato said it’s terrific.
“It’s a great accomplishment for the league and for those two teams in particular,’’ said Donato. “I think for a lot of people it’s a breath of fresh air to see new teams in there. For others, they are saying, ‘It can be done.’ It sets the bar pretty high for the rest of us and I think we’re all excited about that.’’
As for Yale being one of them, Donato said it was a positive step for the Ivy League.
“The truth of it is, Yale is a big rival and there’s a part of you that never wants to see your rival do better than you, but putting all that aside, they deserve a lot of credit,’’ said Donato. “They have had a very difficult road as far as the teams they’ve had to go through to get to the championship game so they deserve a ton of credit. You have to respect what both those programs have done this year. It’s a pretty special finish to the season for our league.’’
For Sneddon, 1989 was memorable for a multitude of reasons.
“Even as a freshman, you knew something special was kind of in the making when [MacDonald and Bourbeau] agreed to come back,’’ he said.
One of the turning points of the regular season was a trip across the pond, where they fell back to earth.
“It was an amazing run,’’ said Sneddon. “We got to go over to Europe that year and for a team that was undefeated going over to Europe, I think it was probably the best thing we could’ve done because I don’t think we touched the puck. We were pretty humble coming out of there and I think it reminded us we weren’t that good.’’
The Crimson regrouped and went on to become the first Harvard team to win a national title. Sneddon said the group reunites every decade.
“When you get those guys back into a room and we’re around Coach Cleary, it is like it was yesterday,’’ said Sneddon. “That is when you know you have something special. That is what I stress to our [Vermont] team — it’s not the ring you put on your finger. You’re proud of it but it’s what went into it to get that ring, the friendships you have for life.’’
Now Yale players have that memory to share after Saturday’s 4-0 win over Quinnipiac.
“Seeing these youngsters going through what they are going through, it just brings back the vivid memories,’’ said Sneddon. “I remember everything about the game. These guys will remember it as well. They will remember this game for the rest of their lives.’’
Yale wasn’t the first team to lose to someone three times during the season and come back to beat them in the NCAA title game. In 1952-53, Michigan lost three times to Minnesota before winning the championship game, 7-3. In 1962-63, North Dakota lost three times to Denver before winning the fourth meeting on the grandest stage . . . It was the first scoreless opening period in a title game since 2008. There have only been four scoreless firsts in championship game history . . . The all-tournament team was: Forwards Andrew Miller (Yale), Jordan Samuels-Thomas (Quinnipiac), and Clinton Bourbonais (Yale); defensemen Gus Young (Yale) and Zach Davies (Quinnipiac); and goaltender Jeff Malcolm (Yale). Miller was named the tournament’s most outstanding player . . . It was just the second time in the 16-team era that two teams from the same conference faced off for the national title. In 2005, Denver beat North Dakota in a Frozen Four that featured four teams from the WCHA. Colorado College and Minnesota were also in the field.