ALBANY, N.Y.-Before the NCAA announced the Hobey Baker Award last Friday, it ran an old highlight video from 1990 recounting the award's first decade of existence, running down each player who was deemed the best player in men's college hockey.
The cheesy compilation, filled with grainy footage and 1980s special effects, ended with the captain of Harvard's 1989 Championship team, Lane MacDonald `89 and the voiceover, "Rapidly becoming the home of the Hobey Baker Award, Harvard......."
Since the Hobey was first given to Minnesota's Neal Broten in 1980-1981, Harvard has won the award three times, tied for the most of any school. In addition to MacDonald, the Fusco brothers, Matt '83 and Scott '86 brought the award to Cambridge.
Watching the brief clips of the Crimson legends weaving through opposing defenses in front of rabid sellout crowds was simply inspiring. Those waiting to see Michigan State's Ryan Miller become the second goaltender to win the award were confronted with just how dominant Harvard was.
The show also reminded the soon-to-be disappointed Boston College fans with just how powerful a rival they used to have across the Charles. (Eagle captain Brian Gionta was the runner-up for the award.)
Reminders of the Crimson's championship tradition popped up throughout the Frozen Four weekend.
The Pepsi Arena had banners for each of the schools that won NCAA titles and Harvard's hung just as gracefully as powerhouses North Dakota, Michigan and Minnesota.
The Eagles entered the weekend without an NCAA title since 1949, a drought that frequently sparked the comment that "Even Harvard has had one since then."
During the semifinal game, Eagle goaltender Scott Clemmensen set the mark for most career saves in the NCAAs with 322. That figure was one save more than Harvard goalie Grant Blair '86.
In fact, neither Blair nor Clemmensen were particularly great college goaltenders. The record was as much a tribute to how many games each goalie played over their four years in college. B.C. made the Frozen Four each of the past four seasons. Harvard made the finals twice from 1983-86.
It has been said, in fact, that talent-wise, the 1985-86 Crimson squad was the school's best ever, but a few mishaps by Blair allowed the Spartans to skate away with the championship by a score of 6-5.
When Harvard won the national championship in 1989, it did not have the random great season, it had a great program. The title was the culmination of a decade of excellence.
The Crimson was a feared national opponent and Bright Hockey Center was a place people trembled to enter.
Unfortunately, Ronn Tomassoni could not continue the winning tradition once Billy Cleary '56 moved up from coach to Athletic Director. After the 1993-94 team lost to Lake Superior St in the NCAA semifinals, Harvard plummeted. The Crimson had not had a season above .500 until this year, the second season of the Mark Mazzoleni era and the final one for Cleary.
The turmoil of the past few years has made all of Harvard's success seem distant. How could the meek Crimson, a school that even this year lost at Union, ever have competed with the Michigans and Minnesotas of the world?
Yet, on college hockey's biggest stage, Harvard had as much a legitimate claim to part of the history of the Frozen Four as all the other great programs there. Scott Fusco with his 240 career points and McDonald, with his 225 deserved as much recognition among the college elite as Broten before them and Paul Kariya and Chris Drury, who won the award after them.
Seeing the role that Harvard once played in college hockey's greatest stage lends hope for the future that Mazzoleni can in the next couple of years put the Crimson back there.
Will sophomore Dominic Moore be a Hobey candidate his senior year? What if freshman Tyler Kolarik converts just half of the magnificent scoring chances his speed and skill generated in his first campaign? How good will Kenny Smith be in three years? How about the three monsters Mazzoleni recruited to join the blueline next year?
These are questions that are starting to be asked about Harvard. The college hockey buzz is circulating in Cambridge again. As has been said on these pages numerous times, the Crimson is heading in the right direction.
The 1980s will probably always remain the golden era for Harvard hockey. But it is not quixotic that the Crimson will again develop into an ECAC powerhouse that consistently makes the NCAA tournament and occasionally excels there. Scholarships are not necessary for success. Next season the top three teams in the conference may very well be Harvard, Cornell and Dartmouth.
As Eagle sophomore Krys Kolanos scored the overtime winner to finally end B.C.'s title drought, it was not too hard imagining a similar celebration by Ed Krayer '92 twelve years ago.
For all the progress Harvard made this year, the Frozen Four was a bittersweet reminder of how great the Crimson was, and ultimately what could be.