Northern Michigan Wildcats Carry WCHA To 1991 NCAA Ice Hockey Championship

WCHA - Doug Spencer
April 2, 1991

Northern Michigan University put the finishing touches on a storybook season last Saturday evening when the Wildcats defeated Boston University 8-7 in triple overtime to claim the 1991 NCAA Division I Championship before 12,564 thrilled fans at the Saint Paul Civic Center in Saint Paul, MN.

The Wildcats, who had already claimed both the MacNaughton Cup as WCHA Champions and the Broadmoor Trophy as WCHA Playoff Champions, thus brought the national championship to Marquette for the fist time in history and to the WCHA for the 29th time since 1952. As an institution, Northern Michigan marked its third appearance in the NCAA final four, but first as a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. (The Wildcats placed second in 1980 and fourth in 1981 while a member of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.)

Northern entered the NCAA final four with an incredible 24-game unbeaten streak and 11 straight victories. The Wildcats were match up against the University of Maine – The No. 1 East seed – in the first semi-final on Thursday, March 28. Before a crowd of 11,651, NMU overcame a 2-1 second period deficit to score four of the last five goals to post a 5-3 victory and send the ‘Cats into the national championship game. Northern’s five goals came from Brad Werenka, Jim Hiller, Tony Szabo, Dallas Drake, and Darryl Plandowski while Bill Pye recorded 24 saves in goal. That win (NMU’s 12th straight), coupled with Boston University’s 7-3 semi-final win over Clarkston University, set up the national championship game on Saturday evening.

Boston University came flying out of the blocks, scoring three times in the first 9:26 to hold a disconcerting 3-0 lead after one period. But the Wildcats, playing what head coach Rick Comley later said was the ‘Cats best 20 minutes of the year, stormed back for 5 unanswered goals from center Dean Antos, center Mark Beaufait, center Scott Beattie, left wing Darryl Plandowski, and Beattie again to halt the Terriers’ momentum and take a 5-3 advantage after two.

The third period opened with Scott Beattie completing his three-goal hat trick at the 3:08 mark as Northern Opened a comfortable 6-3 margin. BU’s David Tomlinson cut the lead to 6-4 at 5:59,  but the Wildcats regained the momentum once again when Darryl Plandowski netted his second of the night on a power-play at 8:24. With the score at 7-4 and less than ten minutes to go, the ‘Cats appeared firmly in the driver’s seat.

But in what will surely rank as one of the great comebacks in recent memory, BU scored three times in the final 7:36, including a goal from David Sacco at 19:21 with Terrier goaltender Scott Cashman at the bench – to know the score at 7-7 and set up sudden death overtime.

The first ten-minute overtime came and went, with both teams having several outstanding scoring chances. The second ten-minute overtime came and went. Again, no scoring but plenty of great chances – including a couple of pipes. And then, 1:57 into the third overtime and 81:57 into the second longest NCAA Championship game in history, an almost unlikely hero emerged. Northern Michigan’s Darrly Plandowski, who had the task of playing opposite BU’s outstanding Tony Amonte, scored the game winner and yes, also registered the team’s second hat trick of the evening.

“I found myself standing right in front of the net with the puck on my stick,” recalled Plandowski in the post-game press conference, “and I decided to shoot it in.”

“Good decision,” added Wildcat coach Rick Comley. And the rest is history.

Northern Michigan finishes their memorable campaign with a 38-5-4 (.851) record, one of the best in college history. The 38 wins set an NMU school record, eclipsing the total of 34 set in 1979-80, and rank as the second highest total in WCHA history – just two back of the 40 posted by the University of North Dakota’s national championship team of 1986-87. Northern was a remarkable 33-0-2 when leading after two periods.

Fittingly, 1991 WCHA Coach of the Year Rick Comley called it the most satisfying year of his distinguished career, one that now shoes a record of 330-235-30 (.580) as the only coach in the history of the Wildcat hockey program.

As pop singer Al Stewart said, it truly was the “Year of the ‘Cat.”