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Blugolds Win NAIA Hockey Title
By: Tim Petermann, Sports Information Director
A somewhat frustrating season came to a triumphant conclusion for the UW-Eau Claire men's hockey team when it captured the NAIA National Championship in the 17th annual tournament at Eau Claire, March 1-2, 1984. Fifth-year coach Wally Akervik called it "a super way to end the season" as the Blugolds disposed of Roger Williams College (Bristol, Rhode Island), 10-5, and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, 6-1, to claim the NAIA title, the first ever for the UW-Eau Claire men's program.
Akervik, who was also at the helm in 1976 when UW-Superior became the last host team to win the NAIA crown, was confident even before the tournament began that his squad could win if it played up to its capabilities. He maintained his confidence even when Michigan-Dearborn was seeded No. 1 in the tourney based on the fact that the Wolves had played 13 games against Division I teams from the CCHA and were making their fifth consecutive NAIA tourney appearance. Coach Ray DeGrendel's squad had visions of ending its role as NAIA bridesmaid and winning the crown. The Wolves had been runnerup in 1981 and 1983.
What could have been a unnerving incident actually may have sparked the Blugolds to their outstanding tournament performance. Late in the first period of the Blugolds' first game, senior goalie Tom Johnson (Sr.-Duluth, Minn./Denfeld) strained a hamstring and could not report for the start of the second period. Nor would he be able to take the nod for the championship game. It was a dismal finish to an outstanding career for the Duluth native who holds school records for most games played, most wins in a season and most victories in a career. What made the injury seem even more severe at first was the fact that the Blugolds had given up two shorthanded goals within a 50-second span late in the period and trailed Roger Williams, 3-2, after the first 20 minutes.
Jumping into the fire was freshman goaltender Mark MacLean (Fr.-Fond du Lac, Wis./St. Mary's Springs), who had played just 160 minutes in the nets during the entire season. But he registered two wins and posted the team's only shutout. It was the defense then that rallied to MacLean's defense. Holding the puck in their own zone for most of the second period, the Blugolds outshot Roger Williams, 18-5, and scored five unanswered goals. They continued the pressure in the third period, outshooting the Hawks, 18-8, and scoring three more times to chalk up their highest goal total of the season.
The five goal differential in the title contest in no way reflected any lack of competition for the Blugolds. "They're a good hockey team," said Akervik, "but we were ready to play. Everybody played with enthusiasm and intensity and they played that way for 60 minutes. We made very few mistakes the second night." Defense had been a problem for the Blugolds all year. Due to graduation, Akervik was forced to press several forwards into action on defense. In addition, the Blugolds were inexperienced in their defense. The five who played in the national tournament included one junior, one sophomore and three freshmen.
However, the defense was so instrumental in keeping the Blugolds in the attacking zone and taking the pressure off MacLean, that 6-foot-4, 195-pound junior defenseman Scott Parker (Jr.-White Bear Lake, Minn./Mariner) earned MVP honors for the tournament. Also coming in for special words of praise from Akervik was sophomore Vic Evavold (So.-Fergus Falls, Minn.) who scored a pair of goals in the Dearborn game and had two assists in the opener. He also rushed the puck very well. Not to be over looked were Dan Snustad (So.-Fergus Falls, Minn.), whose father had died one week before nationals, Chris Ahles (Fr.-Detroit Lakes, Minn.) and Kevin Navara (Fr.-Woodbury, Minn.).
Offensively, the Blugolds enjoyed their best back-to-back games of the season with 16 goals. The entire second line of Troy Ward (Sr.-North St. Paul, Minn.), Rich Penick (Jr.-Duluth, Minn./East) and Steve Blodgett (Jr.-Eau Claire, Wis./North) was named to the All-Tournament team. They accounted for seven goals and 13 assists. Ward had a hat trick the first night. Penick, who became the school's all-time leading scorer during the season, tied the two-game tournament record for most points with nine as he had three goals and six assists. Ward led the tournament with four goals and added one assist and Blodgett had six assists.
Another factor in the Blugolds' favor was the power play situation. The power play had been a thorn in the side for the Blugolds during the season as they converted just 18 percent of their opportunities while allowing opponents to score 29 percent of the time. In the tournament, the Blugolds scored five times in 11 power play chances while killing off all 10 opponent power plays. Beside the defensemen, Akervik credited Mark Squires (Fr.-Albert Lea, Minn.), Bob Lillyblad (So.-Rice Lake, Wis.), Tim Mann (Sr.-Fergus Falls, Minn.) and Tom Mann (So.-Fergus Falls, Minn.) for outstanding work on the penalty-killing units.
Finally, Akervik also handed out accolades to MacLean, saying "He played well considering the situation." He was named to the All-Tournament team after turning away 29 shots in the title game and allowing a lone goal midway through the third period after the Blugolds were ahead, 5-0.