When the University of Minnesota men's hockey team won the 1979 NCAA championship, fans met the team at the airport and had a modest celebration.
It was nothing close to the magnitude of Sunday's celebration at Mariucci Arena for the 2002 Gophers, who won the championship last weekend.
Brainerd oral surgeon Bill Baker was an All-American and captain of the 1979 Gophers. He was invited, along with captains of Minnesota's other national championship hockey teams, to attend the celebration and address the approximate crowd of 4,000.
"Speaking for a couple minutes is never a problem for me," Baker said Monday. "I have 23 years of frustration built up."
Baker told the crowd how proud alumni, as well as Minnesotans, were of the 2002 team.
"I don't think it will sink in, what they accomplished, until they put a few years on and get away from school, until they are 45, gray and losing their hair," Baker said. "Then it means a lot.
"You don't realize how far-reaching it is. It's like a big network. As a player, you're not thinking of that when you're going through it. You're worried about getting through the next quarter and making the team."
Baker said it was different to celebrate a national title as a fan rather than as a player but the feeling was similar.
"The sense of pride I felt was unbelievable," he said. "I can see why people get hooked on a school. I don't think I've jumped out of my seat and cheered like that at a hockey game for a long time.
"I can't say enough about watching college hockey. I think college is so much more interesting than the pros. There's room to move and to skate."
Baker thought this year's team was similar to the 1979 team but differed from the 1976 national championship team that he also played on. Both teams were coached by Herb Brooks.
"In 1976, Tom Mohr was our backup goaltender all year long," Baker said. "He came in, in the finals, and stood on his head. Steve Janaszak was our MVP in 1979 and played great.
"Our '76 team was just like Herbie used to say, 'A hard hat and lunch pail team.' You work hard and see what happens. We didn't have anyone who could light it up. In '79, we had guys who could light it up, like Steve Christoff, Eric Strobel, Rob McClanahan, Phil Verchota, Neal Broten. They were all guys who went to the Olympic team."
The opportunity to commemorate the 2002 championship was special for Baker because he grew up with Gophers head coach Don Lucia. They were all-state hockey players at Grand Rapids High School and played football together.
"Even back in high school, Don was always dedicated and motivated," Baker said. "He was a pretty straight shooter. As the years went on, I heard people talk about him coaching at Colorado College, saying he was one of the most sought-after young coaches in the country.
"When they talked about him for the Gopher job, a couple people from the hockey office called and asked me about him. From a personality standpoint, I can't say enough about him. He's a first class individual."
Baker also grew up with goaltender Adam Hauser's father. Adam Hauser had been criticized by media and fans who didn't think he was capable of leading the Gophers to the national title.
Baker thought play-by-play announcer Frank Mazzocco delivered the best line at Sunday's festivity.
"Frank said Adam faced 10,000 shots on the ice, 20,000 shots off the ice, saved 90 percent on the ice and 100 percent off it," Baker said. "Adam had a rough four years. The press beat him up, and the people did.
"I told Adam that it's over now. You won it. The monkey is off your back. You can show them your ring in a couple months. It's in the books. He weathered the storm."
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