Gophers-BU matchup brings back memories of '76 hockey brawl

Tom Vannelli was the Gophers' leading scorer when the rivalry was the most heated -- in the 1976 NCAA Final Four in Denver. A brawl occurred in the second minute of their national semifinal on March 26.

Tom Vannelli plans to either be at the Gophers-Boston University NCAA West Regional hockey game Saturday at Xcel Energy Center or at least watch it on television.

A former teammate and a nephew already have called him to talk about the rivalry between the Gophers and the Terriers.

Vannelli was the Gophers' leading scorer when the rivalry was the most heated -- in the 1976 NCAA Final Four in Denver. A brawl occurred in the second minute of their national semifinal on March 26.

"We were all on the ice," Vannelli said. "Both benches emptied. It was mayhem. Back then fights were not unusual. Defensemen Reed Larson, Russ Anderson and Jim Boo had been in several fights that season."

Anderson and Terry Meagher, a high-scoring forward for BU, were the only players given game misconducts. Terriers coach Jack Parker complained about losing Meagher for a plugger 'D', Vannelli said, but in the end Anderson had a long NHL career.

And the Gophers upset Boston University 4-2 en route to their program's second NCAA title.

"[The Terriers] were touted to be the best team in the country that year," Vannelli said, "and we sneaked in the back door. We were third in the WCHA and had a dramatic win over Michigan State in triple overtime" to advance to the Frozen Four.

BU leads the all-time series with the Gophers 12-11-2, but the Gophers have a 4-3 edge in NCAA games. In their two most recent postseason meetings, both in the national semifinals, the Terriers beat Minnesota 4-1 at the St. Paul Civic Center in 1994 and 7-3 at Providence, R.I., in 1995.

The Gophers are making their 33rd NCAA appearance, the Terriers their 32nd. Both have won five NCAA titles.

"They are the two best programs in college hockey in terms of tradition," said Vannelli, co-head hockey coach of St. Thomas Academy, which recently won its second consecutive Class 1A state title.

Etc.

• Gophers center Nick Bjugstad on playing Boston University: "I know they are a hard-working team. They are very physical, and we will be on a smaller ice sheet at the Xcel. It will be a gritty game, and it will be exciting for everyone."

• All four teams in the West Regional will hold a one-hour practice, open to the public, on Friday at Xcel. The schedule: Western Michigan, 11:30 a.m.; North Dakota, 12:45 p.m.; Boston University, 2 p.m., and the Gophers, 3:15 p.m.

  • GOPHERS MEN'S HOCKEY

    NCAA West Regional: 4 p.m. Saturday vs. Boston U. • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN Plus (1500-AM) • North Dakota vs. Western Michigan • 12:30 p.m. • FSN

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