Together, Tony Esposito and Rick Best helped Michigan Tech win the 1965 NCAA championship in the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
They formed one of the greatest goaltender tandems on one of the greatest Frozen Four teams of all time.
Recruited by head coach John MacInnes, a former NHL goaltender himself, they followed Garry Bauman as All-American netminders. Esposito earned the honor in 1965 and 1966, Best in 1967.
Esposito went on to a Hall of Fame career in 15 NHL seasons, mostly with the Chicago Black Hawks. But Best was equally as good in college and the two alternated all the way to a national championship.
“We had a tremendous hockey team at that time,” Esposito recalled. “We were generally rated No. 1 in the nation by most of the coaches and polls when Rick and I played on the team.”
The Huskies posted two dominating victories en route to the championship, 4-0 against Brown in the semifinals and 8-2 against Boston College in the title game.
Best played in the semifinal and became the first goalie in the NCAA Tournament’s 16-year history to record a shutout. Esposito played in the championship game and was one of five Huskies named to the all-tournament team.
Forward Gary Milroy, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, tallied two goals and two assists in the championship game. He was joined on the all-tournament team by Esposito, Pete Leiman, Dennis Huculak and Wayne Weller, the team’s leading scorer (45 points on 26 goals and 19 assists).
They were coached by MacInnes, who led Michigan Tech to a 5-2 upset of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team before they won the gold medal and the 1962 NCAA championship.
In 1964-65, the Huskies finished second to North Dakota in the WCHA but beat the Fighting Sioux 6-4 in the conference tournament to win the school’s second MacNaughton Cup.
MacInnes retired in 1982 the winningest coach in college hockey with a career record of 555-295-39 at Michigan Tech. He led the Huskies to a third national championship in 1975 and coached 21 All-Americans — including Esposito and Best.
“Coach MacInnes was to college hockey what Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant was to college football,” said Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell said in 2007, when MacInnes was inducted into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
“Not only was he extremely successful, he was a great ambassador for the sport of college hockey … huge promoter of college hockey in the United States.”
On the cover and above: Michigan Tech’s 1965 NCAA champions. Front row from left: Rick Best, Bruce Riutta, Terry Ryan, Pete Leiman, Al Holm, Rick Yeo, Dennis Huculak, Fred Dart, Tony Esposito. Middle row: Student Manager Wallace Reid, Gary Milroy, Bob Wilson, Bob Toothill, Bob Brooks, Tom Steele, Roy Heino, Wayne Weller, Head Coach John MacInnes. Back Row: Trainer Brad Taylor, David Confrey, Colin Patterson, Mike Gorman, Joe Galetto, Ed Caterer, and Steve Yoshino, Manager Wally Reid. (Courtesy Michigan Technological University Hockey Photograph Collection)
Middle: Michigan Tech’s 1965 team in 2015. (Courtesy Michigan Tech Hockey via Twitter)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Maine and Marshall
• Tuesday: Massachusetts (UMass) and Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell)
• Wednesday: McNeese and Memphis
• Thursday: Mercer and Merrimack
• Friday: Miami (Ohio) and Michigan Tech