Brad Buetow, who had played under Brooks and was his assistant coach, took over head coaching duties at Minnesota on an interim basis for the 1979-1980 season as Brooks was at the helm of the U.S. Olympic team. Buetow was an all-around athlete at Mounds View high school and followed a similar path at Minnesota where he competed in varsity football, track and hockey. He played pro with the Cleveland Crusaders of the WHA.
With the losses all the Mike Ramsey, Neal Broten, Rob McClanahan, Eric Strobel and Steve Christoff to the Olympics, all of whom had eligibility remaining at Minnesota, Buetow faced a tough job of replacing them. However, the Gophers finished with an overall record of 26-15 and surprisingly second in the league with the help of Tim Harrer, who led the WCHA in scoring and set a new school record of 45 goals for the season. Aaron Broten- one of the three Broten brothers from Roseau who have played for the Gophers- Steve Ulseth, Peter Hayek, Bob Bergloff, David H. Jensen, Mike Knoke and goalies Jim Jetland and Paul Butters were among those who helped fill the spots left by those who departed to play for the U.S. Olympic team.
In the WCHA playoffs the Gophers defeated Michigan Tech and Colorado College, but lost to Northern Michigan 4-3 in a one-game playoff at Minneapolis, ending any chance of competing in the NCAA final four at Providence, R.I.
With an overall finish of 31-12 Buetow led the 1980-1981 team to the WCHA title, finishing ahead of Michigan Tech and Wisconsin by six points. Neal Broten returned from the Olympics to join his brother Aaron and Butsy Erickson, to form the best line in college hockey. Both Brotens and Steve Ulseth were voted to the All-WCHA team. Ulseth captured the WCHA the scoring title, and Aaron Broten scored 106 total points for the season, leading the nation in scoring. Many old-time hockey fans compared the 1980-1981 line with the best in Gopher history. For comparison they cite the Ryman-Todd-Parker and the Russ-Gray-Munns lines of the 1930’s, the 1940 line of Paulson-St. Vincent- Pickering, and the early 1950’s combination of Mayasich-Campbell-Dougherty. Among the players who played a prominent role in the team’s success were: Paul Butters, Jim Jetland, Jeff Teal, Mike Knoke, Kevin Hartzell, Mike Meadows, Bart Larson, Bob Bergloff, David H. Jenson and Scott Bjugstad. Jeff Teal and Bill Butters, from Rochester, were among the first players from southern Minnesota to play for the Gophers. The team’s entire roster was composed of Minnesota natives.
In the WCHA playoffs the Gophers defeated Colorado College and UMD. Minnesota then defeated the small but prestigious Colgate University of Hamilton, N.Y., by 9-4 and 5-4 scores in the NCAA playoffs, thus allowing Minnesota to enter the NCAA Final Four in Duluth. The highly regarded Gophers outlasted Michigan Tech 7-2 in the opener, but were upset 6-3 in the finals by Wisconsin. The Badgers had been voted back into the NCAA tournament after having lost in the WCHA playoffs. This surprise action by the NCAA is how the moniker, “Back-Door-Badgers” originated.
Defenseman Mike Knoke and Aaron Broten were selected to the NCAA Final Four All-Star team. Neal Broten has the honor of being chosen as the first recipient of the Hobey Baker Award. Many Gopher hockey followers considered the 1980-1981 team to be among the very best to ever have represented the University of Minnesota in its 60 years of varsity hockey.
At the end of the 1980-1981 season, Notre Dame, Michigan Tech, Michigan State and Michigan left the WCHA to join the more compact Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). This resulted in the WCHA being reduced to a six-team circuit, which operated as such until Michigan Tech rejoined and Northern Michigan entered the league for the first time in 1984-1985 to form an eight-team league.
Predicted to finish fourth or fifth in the WCHA, the 1981-1982 Gophers finished third in the league to the strong North Dakota and Wisconsin sextets. Butsy Erickson led the Minnesota team in scoring with 20 goals and 25 assists for 45 total points. Other scoring leaders include forwards Kevin Hartzell, Scott Bjugstad and Rick Erdall, while Tom Hirsch and David H. Jensen led the defense, and Paul Ostby and Jim Jetland saw the most duty in goal. In the first round of the WCHA playoffs Minnesota defeated Colorado College 9-4 in a two game total goal series at Minneapolis. In the finals held at Madison the Gophers split with host Wisconsin, but lost the series on total goals, thus ending their hope for an NCAA spot.
In 1982-1983 Minnesota won its second league crown in three years as they posted a 18-7-1 WCHA finish and a 33-12-1 overall season. A talented group of freshman joined the team including goalie Frank Pietrangelo, Corey Millen, Wally Chapman, Tony Kellin and Mike Anderson.
In league playoffs the Maroon and Gold defeated UMD but lost to Wisconsin in the WCHA finals. However, both Minnesota and Wisconsin advanced to the NCAA first round where Minnesota outplayed New Hampshire 9-7 and 6-2.
The NCAA Final Four at Grand Forks found the Gophers losing their opening game to Harvard 5-3 and to providence 4-3 in the consolation contest.
During the season after the first 28 games, The Gophers posted a respectable 23-4-1 record. Scott Bjugstad headed the league’s scoring parade with 21 goals and 35 assists for 56 total points, while forwards Erickson, Millen, Erdall and Steve Griffith and defenseman Larson, Hirsch and Jensen were among the team’s top scorers.
The Gophers, with a 16-9-1 WCHA finish, captured third place in the 1983-1984 league race trailing UMD and North Dakota. UMD, under their newly appointed coach Mike Sertich, won the WCHA title with a 19-5-2 record. With the likes of Tom Kurvers, Bill Watson, Rick Kosti and Norm Maciver the Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA Final Four where they lost to Bowling Green 5-4 in four overtime periods.
In the WCHA playoffs Minnesota defeated Colorado College 3-1 and 4-1 and were edged by the North Dakota Sioux 4-3 and 5-4 in the finals at Grand Forks. UMD, North Dakota, Michigan State and Bowling Green advanced to the NCAA Final Four at Lake Placid, N.Y. Tom Rothstein, of Grand Rapids, paced the Gophers in scoring with 30 goals and 34 assists for 64 total points in 39 games. Pat Micheletti, Jeff Larson, Tony Kellin and Todd Okerlund followed in the scoring race. Frank Pietrangelo and Edina’s Mike Vacanti split the goaltending duties.
Buetow posted his sixth straight winning season in 1984-1985 with a 31-13-3 overall finish. With a 21-10-3 record the Gophers ended up second to UMD in the WCHA race.
The season was the first that the WCHA and Hockey East played an interlocking schedule with each WCHA team playing a two game series against each of the seven Hockey East teams. The Hockey East was composed of Boston University, Boston College, Providence, Maine, New Hampshire, Lowell and Northeastern. Minnesota's record against Hockey East opponents for the initial season of completion was 10-3-1.
In the WCHA playoffs Minnesota won a two-game total series from Colorado College and Wisconsin and lost to UMD 10-8. In the NCAA playoffs in Boston the Gophers lost to Boston College 9-8 in a two game total-goal set. The NCAA Final Four staged in Detroit for UMD losing to RPI 6-5 in three overtime periods in the first round. RPI went on to capture the NCAA crown by edging Providence 2-1.
Pat Micheletti paced the Gopher scorers for the season with 48 goals and 48 assists for 96 total points in 44 games. Two centers, Erdall and Corey Millen, followed Micheletti in the scoring race, while two Iron Rangers, Tony Kellin and Captain Mike Guentzel, led the defense. John Blue was chosen the leading goalie in the WCHA.
Players from the Buetow era who were selected to the WCHA All-Star team include: Tim Harrer (1980), Aaron Broten (1981), Neal Broten (1982), Steve Ulseth (1981), Scott Bjugstad (1983), Erickson (1983), Rothstein (1984) and Micheletti (1985). Gophers from this period who played on U.S. Olympic/National teams are as follows: Ostby, Bjugstad, Griffith, Hirsch, Jensen, Millen, John Blue, Aaron Broten, Erickson, Okerlund and Steve MacSwain. The following players have competed in the NHL: Tim Bergland, Blue, Bjugstad, Erickson, Aaron and Neal Broten, Jensen, Millen, Micheletti, Okerlund and Frank Pietrangelo. From Roseau in northwestern Minnesota, Aaron and Neal Broten, along with their younger brother Paul, all played for the Gophers and the NHL. During this period Tim Harrer (1980), Neal Broten (1981), Steve Ulseth (1981), and Pat Micheletti (1985) were accorded All-American honors.
Following the 1984-1985 season Brad Buetow- who never experienced a losing season, and ended his six-year Minnesota coaching career with a 171-75-8 record- was released from his position by the University of Minnesota Athletic Department. Athletic Director Paul Giel refused to give any reason for Buetow's dismissal. Buetow finished his six-year reign with a winning percentage of .689%, highest since Emil Iverson's era of 1923-1924 through 1929-1930. After leaving Buetow coached the U.S. International team in San Diego from 1985-1988 and again within the WCHA when he lead Colorado College for 5 years from 1988-1993.