Thursday, December 20, 2012

What If: Whistle Blown for Offsides

* March 1985: George Servinis scores a disputed goal to put RPI ahead 2-0 in the national championship game

Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World

The hard part was supposed to have been beating Bill Watson, Brett Hull, and Minnesota-Duluth. That was plenty hard, considering how long it took to get it done. But after three overtimes, John Carter finally potted the game winner to give UMD its second consecutive long-game heartbreaker and lift the Engineers to a place they hadn't been since 1954 - the national championship game.

Providence wasn't even supposed to be there. Their run was supposed to have ended against BU in Hockey East's first ever semifinals. After a 5-2 upset, it was supposed to have ended to Hockey East's first ever regular-season champions, Boston College. With a little home cooking - the neutral site for Hockey East's first tournament was the Providence Civic Center - the Friars earned the nascent league's inaugural title with a 2-1 double overtime win. Then they weren't going to survive a two-game, total goals set at CCHA champions Michigan State. They did. Surely they wouldn't survive BC a second time in the Frozen Four. Once again, an overtime winner. The Providence Friars were into the national championship game, against all odds.

Friar netminder Chris Terreri earned himself the nickname "the Extra Terreri-al" with out of this world goaltending, and he was perhaps some of the best proof you'll ever find that a team can ride a hot goaltender pretty far. But there was no doubt he was in for a real test facing down an RPI team that was one of the greatest offensive juggernauts in the history of college hockey. Three goals was a bare minimum for the Engineers in 1985.

RPI looked to be on their way to three with a power play goal just 4:29 into the contest off the stick of sophomore Neil Hernberg. The Friars then had to survive two more RPI power plays in the first period, and Terreri made 13 saves to keep the score 1-0 after one period.

Perhaps Providence's most golden opportunity to put themselves in position to tie things up came early in the second. Mark Jooris' hooking penalty 38 seconds in was compounded by a cross-checking call against captain Mike Sadeghpour, giving the Friars a two-man advantage for 32 seconds. RPI killed Jooris' penalty, but still had 25 seconds left to kill on Sadeghpour's minor when a faceoff came in the RPI end. Providence won the faceoff, but a blue line pass by Peter Taglianetti was stolen by George Servinis, who immediately went on a breakaway, faked Terreri down and put the puck into an empty net to give RPI a 2-0 lead. The picture of Servinis shooting past a splayed out Terreri is one of the most famous pictures in RPI's hockey history.

There was just one minor problem. Servinis was in a position to intercept the pass, in part, because he appeared to have skated into the faceoff circle just before the puck was dropped, which made him offside. That's not supposed to be legal, but the goal counted anyway - one wonders how the linesman who was dropping the puck missed the movement into the circle.

The rest is history - Providence provided some drama with a power play goal midway through the third period, but it was as close as they would get as Terreri put up a brilliant effort with 40 saves, stifling the RPI offense as no other goaltender had all season by allowing just two goals, but the Engineers skated away with their second national championship.

How would things have been different if Servinis' goal had been called back? Tough to say for sure. Obviously, both teams scored one legitimate goal each, but we can't calculate how the teams played differently in the second period and the first half of the third with RPI holding a 2-0 lead as opposed to a 1-0 lead. The Engineers certainly had their opportunities to add to their advantage with three more power play chances before Providence's Paul Cavallini made it 2-1, but a combination of brilliant play by Terreri and tired legs from having played a three-overtime contest the night before made for a bit of a power outage by the awesome RPI offense. The Engineers were 1-for-7 on the man advantage.

We'd like to think the 1-0 edge might have produced some added urgency for the RPI power play on those final three opportunities. The Engineers didn't face much adversity in that championship season, but when the game was tight they put things together, bouncing back from a 3-2-0 start to the season to go undefeated the rest of the way and winning overtime games against a less than stellar Brown team in Providence and against Division III Union in Schenectady (albeit a Division III team that had played for the national championship a season earlier).

Providence, remember, had plenty of time to get themselves back into the game, but could only manage the one goal thanks to RPI's outstanding defense led by Daren Puppa, Ken Hammond, and Mike Dark, not to mention some good discipline after the Sadeghpour penalty ended, as they allowed only two more power plays from there on out (including John Carter's hooking call which helped get the Friars on the board).

So maybe it's just us being homers here, but if it hadn't been George Servinis on a disputed call, we think it probably would have been someone else over the course of 35 minutes of game play that would have collected a memory for the ages.

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