Counting down to the Frozen Four championship game on April 8, we feature some of the greatest moments from the NCAA Hockey Tournament in the history of ASN's family of schools. Today: Northern Michigan.
It was over, or so it appeared, when Darryl Plandowski gave Northern Michigan a three-goal lead late in the 1991 NCAA hockey championship game.
With a 7-4 lead against Boston University and less than 10 minutes remaining, Northern Michigan's first national title seemed assured.
Instead, the sports moment judged the greatest in Wildcats history and one of the greatest games in college hockey history was just getting started.
BU scored three times in the final 7:36 of regulation, including a goal from David Sacco with 39 seconds remaining, to tie the game at 7 and force sudden-death overtime.
"Thirty-nine seconds to a national championship and they score," Plandowski said. "I was ill, sick to my stomach."
So was Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley, who said he was "close to panic" in the first period when BU took a 3-0 lead.
But the Wildcats rallied with five goals in the second period and led by 6-3 and 7-4 before their late collapse.
Comley had another C-word for it.
"I told them we choked, because that's what we did," he said. "Then I told them, 'If at the beginning of the season, somebody could have put you into an overtime of the national championship game, would you take your chances?'"
Plandowski certainly did. His primary assignment was hounding BU's star winger Tony Amonte. But his third goal of the game at 1:57 of the third overtime gave Northern Michigan an 8-7 victory and its first and only NCAA Division I championship.
It became known as The Greatest Goal Nobody Knows About:
“I found myself standing right in front of the net with the puck on my stick,” Plandowski said after the game, “and I decided to shoot it in.”
“Good decision,” Comley added.
At 81 minutes and 57 seconds, the game was the second longest in the 43-year-history of the NCAAhockey championships, exceeded only by a four-overtime game in 1984 won by Bowling Green over Minnesota-Duluth, 5-4.
It also capped one of the greatest seasons in college hockey history.
Northern Michigan finished 38-5-4, including a 26-game unbeaten streak to finish the season. The Wildcats were 33-0-2 when leading after two periods, won the WCHA's regular-season and tournament titles and set or tied 50 school records.
Forward Scott Beattie was the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player. Goalie Bill Pye, who gloved an excellent chance by Amonte in the final second of regulation, made the All-Tournament team. So did defensemen Lou Melon and Brad Werenka, the Hobey Baker Award runner-up.
"Losing that [game] would have been with us the rest of our lives," Werenka told Sports Illustrated, "and yet in overtime you don't think about how you might blow it.
"All you think about is winning."