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Zach Pekale | | February 4, 2022

NCAA Video Vault: The 1979 Frozen Four that featured nearly half of the 'Miracle on Ice' team

From the NCAA vault: Watch Minnesota and Herb Brooks win the 1979 NCAA Championship

College hockey's top players flocked by the dozens to Colorado Springs in July 1979. The mass migration assembled some of the best amateur talent in one place, chasing one goal. That, of course, was to have a chance to compete for a spot on the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Ultimately, 20 prospects got the nod to represent the red, white and blue in Lake Placid and be part of history with the "Miracle on Ice."

No more than four months before those tryouts, nearly half of the Olympic team was already sharing the same sheet of ice. On March 24, 1979, Minnesota claimed a NCAA hockey national championship with a triumphant 4-3 win over North Dakota. The victory was Minnesota's third title of the decade under coach Herb Brooks.

As Sid Hartman wrote in the Minneapolis Tribune on Sunday, March 25, 1979:

"So the Gophers are NCAA champions and the only question now is how good they will be next year. That will depend on how many players make Brooks's Olympic squad and how many turn pro."

One year later, Brooks, along with eight players from Minnesota and another from UND from that 1979 Frozen Four, would become household names by taking down the Soviet Union and ultimately coming away with gold for the United States.

Here is a closer look at those nine players.

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES: Colleges of the 1980 U.S.A. men's ice hockey Olympic team


Bill Baker, defender

Baker had already been part of a championship team as a freshman in 1976. As a senior, he was Brooks' captain and a key to the Gophers' blue line. However, a pre-existing leg injury limited his ice time during the NCAA tournament.

Neal Broten, forward

Broten was only a freshman in 1979, but that didn't stop him from giving Minnesota a veteran-quality goal against UND. His third period goal extended Minnesota's lead to 4-2 and was eventually the game-winning score. He worked up the left boards and maneuvered past a defender, managing to keep the puck in range, falling down from a back check. But before Broten hit the ice, he chipped the puck from his knees over UND goalie Bob Iwabuchi. 

Broten also recorded the secondary assist on UM's third goal.

Steve Christoff, forward

Christoff had a nose for the back of the net throughout his sophomore year. He led Minnesota in scoring with 38 goals, none bigger than the opening score against North Dakota. Off a save by Steve Janaszak, Christoff and Phil Verchota started a two-on-two break. Christoff carried the feed into the zone, splitting a defense of Bill Himmelright and Marc Chorney before tapping a backhander past goalie Bill Stankhoven. 

Christoff's offensive contribution didn't stop there. His outlet pass to Broten set up what became the game-winning goal.

Steve Janaszak, goaltender

Minnesota won 10 of its final 11 games to end the 1978-79 season and Janaszak was a big reason why. The senior didn't give up more than three goals in any of the wins, allowing the Gophers' to maintain their style. He saved one of his best performances for last, stopping 25 shots and limiting a high-powered UND offense to three goals. Janaszak was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

Rob McClanahan, forward

McClanahan's 49 points as a junior were a career best. It was a steady improvement after scoring 17 and 42 points his first two seasons. The winger was kept in check against UND as he did not register a point.

Mike Ramsey, defender

At one point of  Ramsey's freshman season, he was playing with the junior varsity team. By the end of the year, he was the youngest player going to Lake Placid (19). When Baker became limited, Ramsey stepped in, more than serviceably filling the gap in increased minutes. While he didn't score a goal in the Frozen Four, his presence on the blue line warranted an all-tournament selection.

Eric Strobel, forward

Strobel became a 30-goal scorer in his final collegiate season under Brooks. In fact, his offensive capability triggered a line change ahead of the Frozen Four. After playing on Broten's wing in the team's opening-round game against Bowling Green, Brooks moved Strobel to center on another line.

Most coaches wouldn't stray from a working formula, but this decision paid off. Strobel wound up with a hat trick against New Hampshire, securing Minnesota a spot in the national final, where he'd record a primary assist and wind up on the all-tournament team as well.

Phil Verchota, forward

Like Baker, Verchota also finished his college career with two NCAA championships. He had a career-high 42 points in 1979, but he was far from a primary scoring option, ranking tied for eighth on the team in points. But the Gophers' alternate captain delivered in a big moment, initiating a two-on-two rush with Christoff for the first goal of the title game. Verchota was credited with the primary assist.

North Dakota

Dave Christian, forward

Christian notched a career-best 46 points during his last season at UND, the sixth-best mark on the team. His offensive contributions helped North Dakota reach the championship game, where he was held scoreless.

Against the Soviets in 1980, Christian recorded an assist on the Americans' second goal that tied the game 2-2 with only one second left in the first period. Christian fired a shot that was saved but teammate Mark Johnson found the loose puck and scored.

From the Minneapolis Tribune:

Minnesota hockey won the 1979 Frozen Four

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