1976-77 Gustavus Men’s Hockey: The Forgotten Team

Posted on October 6th, 2020 by

Sunday, Feb. 27, 1977. Gustavus vs. St. Scholastica for the NAIA National Championship.

A game that would “be a culmination of over 11 years of excellence and accomplishment for the Gustavus hockey program,” writes Chris Middlebrook ’79 in his newly published booklet, Gustavus Men’s Hockey, 1976-77: The Forgotten Team. For anyone unfamiliar with the outcome of the 1977 NAIA National Championship, common adjectives used by the Gustie faithful include devastating, disappointing, and heartbreaking, to name a few.

Here’s an excerpt from Middlebrook’s booklet, detailing the unimaginable final 30 seconds of the national championship:

Gustavus, with its 2-1 lead, dominates the third period. St. Scholastica, on the brink of collapse, is saved again and again, literally and figuratively, by goaltender Bill Courchaine. He will make 46 saves overall. The score remains 2-1 Gustavus late into the game. And then it is tied as Gilbertson scores for St. Scholastica at 15:34 of the period. The game is now 2-2 with four and a half minutes remaining. An entire season and nine years of Gustavus striving for a national championship, comes down to minutes remaining on a game clock.

Gustavus kills another penalty and then at 17:44 a St. Scholastica player is given two minutes for tripping. On the power play for Gustavus is the number one extra man unit in the country; forwards Steve Hansen, Mike Cody, and Jim Williams, backed by defensemen Brian Parr and Mark Weber. With just over 30 seconds left in the game, 16 seconds left on the power play, there is a scramble for a rebound in front of the St. Scholastica goal. The puck comes to Steve Hansen and he shoots. The puck goes under goaltender Courchaine and comes out the other side one foot from the goal line. The puck never stops. It never comes to rest. It is never covered by the goalie. Jim Williams pushes the puck into the wide open goal. He has scored the game-winning goal. The goal which wins the national championship for Gustavus. Its first ever. The Gustavus hockey team, the players, the coaches, have achieved their destiny.

On the ice the five Gusties leap into each other’s arms in the corner to the left of the St. Scholastica goal. Gustie goalie Brad Austin, tethered to the ice only by the weight of his pads, throws his arms into the air as he ice dances in front of his goal. On the Gustavus bench, players and coaches embrace one another, yelling at the top of their lungs “We did it, we did it!” It is only then that they see one of the referees, the one who had been standing in the corner to the right of the net, waving the goal off. Although the puck had never stopped moving and was never covered he had lost sight of it and had blown his whistle just as Williams was shooting the puck into the St. Scholastica goal. Although the game was televised live by a Duluth station there was no video replay in college hockey in 1977. The call stands. The goal which had won Gustavus the national championship is disallowed.

In 1977 there are also no timeouts. Instead there is a face off to the right of the St. Scholastica goal, the side where the referee was standing when he lost sight of the puck and blew his whistle. There are 30 seconds left in regulation and 14 seconds on the Gustavus power play. They can still win the game in regulation or in overtime. But neither potential is how this game will end. Off the faceoff, the puck goes back to the Gustavus point where as if directed by the hand of God takes a hop over the defenseman’s stick. There is a semi breakaway by St. Scholastica forward Beck. He is caught in the Gustavus zone at the top of the circle by the other Gustavus defense. Beck shoots and the save is made. But there is a rebound and with 20 seconds left in the championship game Beck puts his own rebound into the Gustavus goal. In the span of ten seconds St. Scholastica has gone from runner up to national champion. Gustavus has gone from national champion to instead a stunning defeat, without question or argument ranking first, not only in the history of Gustavus athletics, but also in the annals of college hockey.

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Please find the entire booklet below. Printed copies are also available; email siewert@gustavus.edu for details.

Gustavus Men’s Hockey 1976-77: The Forgotten Team

 


One Comment

  1. John Moorhead ‘68 says:

    Great story and as ABC’s Wide World of Sports so aptly put it “ The Thrill of Victory and the Agony of Defeat”. As butter sweet as this game was to all the players and the coaching stuff it just reinforces the rich history of the Gustie Men’s Hockey program that has had great success throughout the years. Special thanks to Chris for bringing the story back to life. For thoughts of us that have had a hand in the program’s history all these various experiences mean so much!

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