The Harvard hockey team sat quietly, devastated. A successful season had ended in disappointment. After losing its leading scorer in a semifinal contest, the Crimson lost three two-goal leads in a defeat by Michigan State in the final game of the 1986 NCAA tournament.
In the locker room, Peter E. Chiarelli ’87 longed to still be out on the ice, celebrating a championship. Growing up under the wings of a former national champion, seeing the trophy case full of awards on a daily basis, it was only natural.
“[My dad] had trophies and plaques from when they won,” Chiarelli remembered. “Old program stuff I had always seen growing up. We challenged a couple years for a national title. It would have been nice to get one.”
It would take Chiarelli 25 more years to get his trophy, but when he did as general manager of the Boston Bruins, he took an entire city to the top of the mountain with him.
TRIBULATION AND NEAR TRIUMPH
From the beginning, Chiarelli was close to greatness. A plethora of trophies in his house reminded him of that. Chiarelli’s father, Frank, led Rensselaer to the 1954 national title and still holds the NCAA records for goals per game in a career, goals per game in a season, and points per game in a season. The elder Chiarelli went on to set Peter on a quest for hardware of his own, teaching him about hockey and skating outside with him, and his brother Mike, near their icy Ottowa home.
Despite his prestigious hockey pedigree, Chiarelli did not achieve instant success upon his arrival at Harvard. After a freshman campaign in which the team went 10-14-3, the center suffered through a personally disappointing sophomore year, during which he spent a lot of time on the JV squad. Chiarelli has credited that year with motivating him to work even harder, as he gained a reputation as one of the most determined players on the team.
During his junior year, Chiarelli earned a spot in the regular rotation. In the NCAA tournament that year, the Crimson beat Western Michigan and Denver before facing Michigan State in the finals.
Despite the Crimson’s early two-goal lead, Michigan State netted a goal with just over two minutes left in the third period to take a 6-5 advantage. Harvard was unable to answer.
“Aw man, brutal,” said Mark J. Carney ’87, a former roommate and teammate, about the game’s result. “Brutal.”
“Being in that game and losing ultimately was devastating to a lot of us,” said Donald C. Sweeney ’88, a former college teammate and the current assistant general manager of the Bruins. “We thought we should have won that championship.”
Chiarelli’s junior year ended with a bit of good news though, as he was named the team captain for the ’86-’87 season.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Carney said. “The combination of not just the skill level, but the work ethic, the quiet leadership, the team focus, all those things [helped support] him being captain.”
Under Chiarelli’s leadership, the Crimson looked poised to avenge last season’s championship disappointment and was ranked No.1 for much of the year.
Harvard didn’t even make it to the championship game though, falling to North Dakota in the semifinals, missing an opportunity to challenge Michigan State, which had advanced to the finals.