From the Archives: Double the Pleasure, Double the Fun

By Erik Nordberg, University Archivist Michigan Tech Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
Rockwell dives to stop the puck in action vs. North Dakota

John Rockwell dives to stop the puck in action vs. North Dakota

Those who have slept through the current college hockey season missed the impressive early showing the Michigan Tech Huskies made. And, although the team had some struggles after the great start, they've implemented new, aggressive offensive and defensive systems. Another constant has been the excellent work of Rob Nolan and Michael-Lee Teslak: the two sophomore goaltenders have amassed impressive statistics thus far.

Fans at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena have become accustomed to seeing the duo trade-off games during weekend series in the WCHA. Teslak is usually in goal on the Friday night, with Nolan working the Saturday shift. "Tess and Robbie are both playing very well," says head hockey coach Jamie Russell. "They both are very sound technically, have strong work ethics, and are extremely competitive."

But will it stay that way? According to Russell, if it's not broken, don't fix it.

"I'm fine with rotating in a tandem," he says. "Coming into the weekend, each goalie knows he has to concentrate on getting one win. This keeps both goalies fresh mentally and physically."

It's not the first time that the Huskies have worked a two-goalie system through a full season. Some fans may recall the play of Tom Allen and Mudge Tompsett or Darryl "Tiger" Pierce and Dave Roach in the early 1980s.

Rick Best shakes hands with a Colorado College goalie

Rick Best shakes hands with a Colorado College goalie

But in many cases, early-season rotations dissolve as one goaltender develops into a regular starter. "I think all coaches usually go with the goalie with the 'hot hand' or the experience," comments Darcy Way, Tech goalie from 1978 to 1982. "We have a strong history of outstanding netminders who ended up carrying a ton of playing time."

The 1977-78 season is probably the most recent to feature a regular goaltending tandem, when senior netminder Bruce Horsch shared duties with junior John Rockwell. Horsch had joined the team in time to share in their 1975 NCAA championship (and duties with Jim Warden), as well as a 1976 WCHA championship and second place finish in the national playoffs.

Coming into his senior year, Horsch enjoyed the challenges of a two-goalie tandem. "I usually played Fridays, and John had the Saturday game," he recalls. "We were really good friends and never had a problem."

The team's overall record for the season was 25-14-1 and included an 11-game winning streak, a GLI tournament trophy, and 10-4 and 10-2 drubbings of Wisconsin. Attendance at the MacInnes ice arena totaled more than 71,000, with six games drawing more than 3,500 fans.

Although the team placed third in the WCHA and missed a berth to the NCAA playoffs by only two points, coach John MacInnes called it one of the best seasons of his coaching career. "This team has played more to its potential than any we've had here since 1964," he said. Postseason honors included MVP Bruce Horsch and "most improved" John Rockwell.

Bruce Horsch, left, and John Rockwell, goaltending tandem from the 1970's

Bruce Horsch, left, and John Rockwell, goaltending tandem from the 1970's

MacInnes' reference to the 1964-65 season is appropriate, as that was the start of the strongest two-goalie tandem that the team has yet to see. For three years-from 1964 through 1967-Rick Best and Tony Esposito backed the Huskies in goal.

"We had a tremendous hockey team at that time," recalls Esposito. "We were generally rated number one in the nation by most of the coaches and polls during the period Rick and I played on the team."

And it was a true rotation. During the 1965 playoff run, each goaltender took a turn versus Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the WCHA playoffs (Best with a 8-4 victory and Esposito a 3-3 tie), and Esposito was in net for the 6-4 championship over North Dakota. Advancing to the NCAA semifinals, Best forged a 4-0 victory over Brown University, the first shutout by a goaltender in the eighteen years of NCAA playoff hockey. Esposito then anchored the Huskies in the championship game, an 8-1 blowout of Boston College.

The Daily Mining Gazette once referred to Esposito as a "whirling dervish" in goal, while others described Best as "a more conventional goalie in style" and possessing "the fastest glove in the West."

"Tony and I had completely different styles," remembers Best. "Just when a team adjusted to three periods against one of us, they would face a whole different game the next night."

The duo continued their stellar play through two more seasons, including a WCHA first-place finish in 1966 and victories at the GLI and Boston Area Holiday tournaments. Esposito earned three consecutive All-American nods and made the WCHA first team in all three seasons, while Best made All-American in his senior year. One of the two goalies was featured as MVP or "first team" all-star for most of the GLI, WCHA, and NCAA tournaments in which they participated.

Tony Esposito with the 1964 National Championship trophy

Tony Esposito with the 1964 National
Championship trophy

Over three years, the team amassed an amazing 65-22-4 record. Tony Esposito still holds the team record for lowest goals against average, 2.55, with Rick Best just behind him in third place with 2.88.

So is there a downside to a two-goalie rotation? "You always wanted to play all the games," recalls Best. Coach Russell understands that goalies like to get into a rhythm. "Playing one game a week can make it tough to really get on a roll individually."

Darcy Way also notes players' aspirations of continuing up to the National Hockey League. "A two-man system may hurt a netminder's ranking in the draft due to the low number of games that he has played," he said.

Esposito agrees. "I was hoping for a shot at the NHL," he remembers, "and I wanted to play two or three times a week to show I was ready." Esposito proved the pundits wrong, however, playing fifteen seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks, collecting two Vezina goaltending trophies and induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988.

So what should we expect of current sophomores Teslak and Nolan?

"With equal playing time," remarks Way, "the rest of the players start to develop the confidence in front of both netminders that either one is capable of getting the job done. Also, if one of the netminders gets hurt the other one has been playing regularly and can easily step up to play both games on a weekend. I hope Jamie can ride those guys to a WCHA and a NCAA Championship."

Russell is a bit more pragmatic. "Whatever gets us to the top."

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