Lake Superior State and Maine: Unfinished Business

The Zapruder film—amateur footage of the end of the Kennedy “dynasty”—comprised the only images of JFK’s gruesome assassination in front of the Dallas book depository back in 1963. 

Thirty years later, college hockey generated its own Zapruder film, video of a magic bullet that shaped the course of championship history. 

The setting: Milwaukee’s Bradley Center, the 1993 NCAA title clash between respective top seeds Maine and Lake Superior, the No. 1 ranked Black Bears versus the defending champs. It took place in the 59th minute of a game that lived up to all the hype—three lead changes and massive swings in momentum. 

Maine had owned the third period thanks to superstars Paul Kariya and Jim Montgomery performing at their heroic best to propel Maine to a 5-4 lead. Lake Superior pulled goalie Blaine Lacher, yet failed to net the tying goal, and the Black Bears celebrated deep into the night on the shores of Lake Michigan.

A point-blank scoring chance by Lake State junior Sean Tallaire with 50 seconds remaining appeared to bank off the crossbar, and play raged on to the game’s completion. ESPN never replayed Tallaire’s bid, and the NCAA had yet to institute video review. Upon examination of the grainy analog game feed, available to all on YouTube, you will see Tallaire raise his stick to celebrate, and then sprint out of the frame to hustle back on defense. Fast forward 5:13 into this clip from the documentary “Out of the Woods.”

Twenty-six years after the fact, former Lake State coach Jeff Jackson recalls the moment distinctly. “I remember Sean came back to the bench and said, ‘That puck was in, Coach!’” Jackson’s Lakers were in the midst of a dynastic run of NCAA gold (1992), silver (1993), and gold again (1994), and the loss to Maine interrupted a potential NCAA three-peat, a feat achieved only once before by Michigan in the early 1950s, an era when only two postseason wins captured the crown. A Lake Superior championship in 1993 would have secured immortality for both Jackson and his program. 

Current Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson is second on the NCAA list of active Division One coaches with 501 wins.

The summer of 1993, Jackson spent long hours in an edit suite, producing a pump-up video for the upcoming season. When he got to Tallaire’s last minute bid to tie up the championship game, he became convinced that the ruling of “no goal” didn’t pass the smell test. 

“Every time I watched the clip, I noticed something was weird,” Jackson said this past August, recalling his revelation. “So I kept on rewinding it back on the old VHS systems and trying to determine. You couldn’t see the puck go in the net. But what I did see was the skate lace tying down the water bottle on the top of the net, flying in the air. That’s when I knew the puck had gone in.”

Unlike the low-resolution analog footage that Jackson was using to edit his piece, a clean tape, one generation removed from the original footage, was rescued from ESPN’s tape truck an hour after their championship telecast went off the air. Four replay angles of Tallaire’s tying goal, images that were never broadcast, were dubbed off onto a digital cassette, a relic that was last seen buried in the NHL’s video archives.

The cassette got into the hands of a college hockey producer in November of 1993 and was employed during an intermission feature during a live broadcast of a Lake Superior/Vermont clash from Burlington, Vermont. It was there that the end-zone camera angle of Tallaire’s shot finally made air on the now defunct Prime Network, rolled in slo-mo, allowing the viewers to see incontrovertible evidence: the 1993 NCAA championship game—the game that would have secured Lake Superior’s bid for a historic three-peat—had been tied up in the final minute. One can make a rock-solid argument that Lake Superior remains undefeated in NCAA play from 1992 to 1994, three consecutive postseasons. Is it time to revise college hockey history? 

To circus showmen like P.T. Barnum, this is an opportunity to get 40- and 50-year-olds back out on the ice, to resume the 1993 championship game, one that is arguably still tied at five goals apiece, and settle the issue once and for all. That proposal brings a laugh from Jackson. 

“It would probably be pretty tough for some of those guys,” Jackson said. “I think Kariya could probably do some stuff, I’m not sure how many of the rest of them could, maybe Monty [current Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery].

Before putting this issue to bed as just another piece of Homeric history, verbal accounts with no authentication, Coach Jackson dropped this bombshell. “I actually have a national championship trophy from 1993 that was sent to me by the NCAA.” The former Lakers coach added a monumental understatement. “It’s probably a collector’s item.” 

He then pointed out that the Maine program was in the midst of a recruiting controversy, having suffered NCAA sanctions shortly after winning the 1993 crown, which may have prompted the NCAA to award him the commemorative plaque. The optics are compelling: Jackson has three NCAA golds from 1992 to 1994, and there is ample evidence to support his claim on the 1993 title.

Will college hockey’s Zapruder film ever surface again? Or will it forever lie in the dusty confines of the NHL’s video vault? There is something to be said for leaving arguments like this to the imagination. But for those advocating on behalf of Lake State’s bid at a 1990s three-peat, there’s comfort in the knowledge that video evidence exists: multiple angles tracking the previously unaccounted-for path of Sean Tallaire’s magic bullet.

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