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That put the Saints into sole position of first place in the Tri-State League and what looked like an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

But St. Lawrence still had to come to Troy. The teams were scheduled to meet on the last night of the regular season, March 5, 1954. Tickets were impossible to find. The game had been sold out for months.

The game exceeded the high expectations. Reports from the time claimed it was one of the most exciting, closely contested games ever staged at the Field House. With Rensselaer’s 4-2 triumph, the two teams wound up tied atop the league standings. A vote by coaches and officials would determine which of the two teams would represent the Tri-State League at the NCAA Tournament in Colorado Springs. Boston College, as champion of its league, had already earned its berth as the other Eastern college to qualify for the tournament.

* RPI Hockey Facts
To the surprise of many, Rensselaer received the invitation over St. Lawrence.

That only seemed to make the team more of an underdog. The team was seeded fourth in the four-team field.

“I know one thing, they weren’t calling us ‘RPI’ when we went out to Colorado Springs,” Chiarelli says. “They were calling us ‘RIP’ for ‘Rest in Peace.’ ’’

Injured pride led to insult when Rensselaer discovered its name missing from the program. The four schools listed on it were Michigan, Minnesota, Boston College, and St. Lawrence. A hurried trip back to the printer corrected that mistake, but nothing could be done about the four wooden pennants outside the Broadmoor Ice Palace where the games would be played. Instead of a carved Rensselaer pennant stood a St. Lawrence one.

“It’s safe to say we didn’t fit in with the other schools there,’’ Baum says. “At a luncheon for the four teams, all the other coaches were getting up and saying things like, ‘We have 20 outstanding hockey players on this team, or our players are some of the finest athletes in the nation, and blah, blah, blah.’

“Well, when it came to Ned’s turn, he got up and said, ‘Gee, all I have here are 13 students but they’re hard-working and dedicated.’ ”

That set the tone.

“We were constantly being teased by the other teams,’’ says C. Lloyd Bauer ’55, a defenseman and retired professor at Carnegie Mellon University now residing in Florida. “They would ask us to check our slide rules to see how we were going to win a game.”

It wasn’t any better at the upscale Broadmoor Hotel. The coaches of the three other teams all wore traditional fedora hats while Harkness stubbornly stuck to his battered baseball cap. He had been wearing it since 1946 when he “borrowed” it from the baseball equipment locker. Some wondered if it was a permanent part of his head.

When asked by one of them if the cap had ever been washed, Harkness replied, “Yeah, every time it rains.”

Such comebacks endeared the coach and his little band of science, architect, and math majors to the public. Unfortunately, it did little to enhance their image as a legitimate hockey team to be taken seriously.

“People should know that just because we only had 13 players didn’t mean we weren’t good. In fact, we were very good. That line of Abbie Moore, Frank Chiarelli, and Mo Mosco was the greatest line I ever coached,’’ says Harkness, who went on to win two more NCAA hockey championships with Cornell and posted almost 400 career victories.

“Yes, we were small,” Harkness says. “But, boy, were we fast. Moore was untouchable. Nobody could check him. He also had another sense, seeing the play develop in his head long before it did on the ice. He was beautiful with the puck.’’

Moore and Mosco are the only two members of the team who have passed away. But their former teammates remember them vividly.

“Not only were they exceptional hockey players but wonderful people,’’ says John Magadini ’55, who played forward and is now a retired sporting goods manufacturer living in New Jersey.

Michigan, top seed in the tournament and three-time defending national champion, discovered Rensselaer’s talent firsthand. After all, Boston College, the East’s top team, had been flattened 12-1 by Minnesota in the other semifinal game. What could poor little Rensselaer do against mighty Michigan?

“Yes, it was a lot like David and Goliath,’’ Shildneck says. “But not only were we extremely well coached, we were in peak condition. We often wore the bigger teams down in the third period.’’

On that night, March 12, Rensselaer left Michigan on the short end of a 6-4 defeat. Winger Gordie Peterkin ’55 got the winning goal and a hat trick for emphasis in the upset victory.

“We only played six forwards and four defensemen,’’ says Jim Pope ’55, one of the weary blueliners. “Marty Karch ’56 [another defenseman] and I were pretty pooped after the game.’’

Michigan took the defeat hard. Baum remembers the frustrated Michigan players tearing up the hotel that night.

“They were throwing chairs and lamps and slamming doors,’’ Baum says. “They still couldn’t believe they had lost.’’

The victory marked a milestone for the Rensselaer hockey program. It was the first time it had ever beaten a Western school, and it wiped out the bitter taste of the three-game battering they had taken at the hands of Denver and Colorado earlier in the season.

But the higher altitude of Colorado Springs appeared to be taking its toll on the Rensselaer players.

“We were wearing down,’’ Magadini says. “So Ned says he’s going to provide us with a boost for the championship game. He goes out and gets tanks of oxygen with masks and the whole thing. Most of us felt it really helped, too. But, we were a little upset later, after we had won, when he told us there never was any oxygen in those tanks.’’

Perhaps the psychological edge enabled Rensselaer to jump out to a 3-0 lead over Minnesota in the championship game March 13. But the Golden Gophers rallied. And, when they took a 4-3 lead in the third period, it appeared as though the fairy tale was about to end.

Then, with four minutes remaining in regulation, Moore tied the game on what many described as a nearly impossible shot. At the other end of the ice, Fox was trying to recover from facing 40 Minnesota shots, 20 of them in the third period.

“I remember being very, very tired in the locker room between the third period and sudden-death overtime,’’ Magadini says. “Ned said, ‘Let’s get this over with quickly.’

“The plan was for Gordie [Peterkin], Frank Paradise, and myself to just lay back and forecheck aggressively,’’ says Magadini, whose father was the captain of the 1932 RPI hockey team. “We were going to let the big line of Moore, Mosco, and Chiarelli try and get the winning goal.’’


It didn’t quite work out that way. During a line change, with Moore and Mosco already back on the bench, Chiarelli dug the puck out of the corner and centered it to Peterkin in the slot. The 5-foot-6 winger snapped off a shot, which slipped through the Minnesota goalie’s pads and into the net.

“It’s still the single most exciting moment of my life,’’ says Peterkin, a retired engineer living in Ottawa. “You go through life with your ups and downs but nothing ever really comes along like that again.’’

It took a moment for Peterkin to realize he had just ended the first overtime game in NCAA hockey history.

“I was so close to the goalie I couldn’t see the puck go in,’’ Peterkin says. “I didn’t know what was happening until Magadini tackled me. Then I threw my stick away and started screaming.’’

Fox, witnessing the winning goal from his own crease, made a mad dash for Peterkin. But Harkness, who had jumped over the boards and also was running toward Peterkin and Magadini rolling around on the ice, collided head-on with Fox. The two embraced and Harkness began planting wild kisses on his goalie’s forehead.

“It was the moment of a lifetime,’’ says Fox, who led the country in shutouts (five) and goals-against average (2.46) that season. “If we had played Minnesota 10 times, they would have won nine. If we had played Michigan 10 times, they would have won nine. The only thing I can compare it to is the Miracle on Ice, when Team USA beat the U.S.S.R. in the 1980 Olympics. Only we had two miracles on ice in back-to-back nights.’’

The fans in Colorado Springs, who had treated underdog Rensselaer like the home team because of its dislike for western rivals Michigan and Minnesota, tossed hats and gloves onto the ice and blew horns for 20 minutes after the final goal.

“Let me just say we didn’t get much sleep that night,’’ Pope says.

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Rensselaer Magazine: Winter 2003
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