BOSTON — The finish line of the historic Boston Marathon is in front of the Boston Public Library. The finish line of this year’s historic Hockey East marathon was Maine’s Ben Murphy’s stick.
The longest game in Hockey East championship history finally came to a close 12 minutes short of midnight Saturday night with Murphy deflecting a shot at 9:27 of triple overtime past Massachusetts goaltender Gabe Winer, to end the longest game in Hockey East history and give the Black Bears their fifth Hockey East tournament crown.
The play developed off an offensive zone draw when Cameron Lyall dug a loose puck out of the corner and fed it back to the point. Matthew Deschamps wristed a shot from the right point that hit Murphy’s stick and squeaked through Winer’s pads to finally send the FleetCenter crowd of 16,743 – the majority of which were Maine fans – home.
“We were just trying to put as much pressure on [Winer] as we could,” said Murphy of his goal. “Matt Deschamps made a great play to get to the puck and get it to the net. Luckily I was able to get [a piece of] it and it squeaked through his legs and into the net.”
It was a goal that not only ended one of the most entertaining college games in history, it also closed out Massachusetts’ season as the Minutemen could not qualify for the NCAA tournament without the automatic bid earned for winning their conference tournament.
“I don’t think [the criteria] is subjective enough, nor do I think it should be,” said UMass head coach Don Cahoon when asked if he thought his team should quality for the tournament based on its performance in this weekend’s Hockey East championships. “The way the criteria are now, it’s a lot more objective so you don’t have coaches ripping into one another about who knows who and what not. This is the way it needs to be.”
A major story line for the historic night before the game ever started was goaltending. Each coach was faced with an interesting pre-game decision on which of two goaltenders to start in net.
The fact that Winer played for the Minutemen was a bit of a surprise. Winer missed the entire quarterfinal series against Massachusetts-Lowell with a back injury and did not play in Friday’s 5-2 semifinal victory over New Hampshire. His replacement, Tim Warner, was becoming the story of the tournament, having not started a single game all season, but Warner won three straight playoff games to propel the Minutemen to their first-ever Hockey East final. Still, Winer’s 59-save performance, though, was plenty to keep anyone from second-guessing the decision.
Maine started Jimmy Howard for the second consecutive game despite the fact that Howard and senior Frank Doyle had platooned most of the year in the Maine net. Maine head coach Tim Whitehead said that in the end, it was an easy decision to start Howard, who has not allowed an even strength goal since December 5, 2003, and whose play earned him tournament MVP honors.
“Frankie [Doyle] is such a great goalie, but it was an easy decision for us,” said Whitehead. “If you saw the game last night you know why we started him. He was just very sharp and at the top of his game right now.”
The opening period was fast skating but scoreless, thanks to both goaltenders and a little help from the instant replay official.
Massachusetts applied the early pressure as Josh Hanson’s rebound of a Mike Warner shot at 3:20 required Howard to flash the left pad to make the save.
At 9:26, it appeared that UMass opened the scoring. On the power play, offensive power Greg Mauldin blasted a shot over the blocker of Howard, but referee Tim Benedetto ruled that Kevin Jarman had skated through the crease. After a long review, video replay official Tom Quinn ruled that Jarman had indeed skated through the crease before the puck entered the net, disallowing the goal.
Maine would have its best shot at 17:34 when Greg Moore was sent in on a breakaway. Winer, though, made a spectacular glove save, robbing Moore and keeping the game scoreless through one.
UMass began the second with the same pressure it maintained through much of the first. Despite that, Maine would strike first blood late in the period on the power play.
From the right point, Michel Lveill attempted a shot on which his stick snapped and the puck simply floated towards the net. Blocked by a UMass defender, the puck bounced to Dustin Penner, who turned and fired a wrist shot that caught Winer moving back to position, beating him between the legs at 16:24 for the 1-0 lead.
For the second straight period, UMass controlled the play and the shot total, finishing the frame, 13-7, and holding a 25-17 advantage through two. Despite that, they trailed 1-0 and would need a third-period rally for the second night if they wanted to win.
The Minutemen would get that rally late in the third. For the third time in the period, Maine was whistled for a minor penalty. But for the first time the Minutemen didn’t retaliate, setting up a UMass power play. At 13:47, Mauldin, after holding the puck for an apparent eternity, blasted a slap shot through perfectly timed screen to even the game at one.
Both teams would have opportunities late to tie the game, but each time the goaltenders were able to come up big as they had throughout the game that featured a total of 69 regulation saves.
In the first overtime, neither team indicated the desire to sit back at all. Both teams came out firing and UMass’ Thomas Pck ended up with the best chance at 15:00 exactly. Picking up the puck in the neutral, he skated with a head of steam down the right wing. His first shot was saved by Howard, but the rebound ended up right back on his stick. This time, with the top of the net seemingly open, Pck fired high only to have Howard flash his glove while falling, getting enough of the net to deflect it high.
UMass finished the first overtime with a 19-8 edge in shots, giving the Minutemen a 56-42 lead on the shot clock through four periods.
The flow of the second overtime swayed completely in the opposite direction with Maine outshooting the Minutemen, 13-4. With that the Black Bears also had the frame’s best chances, none better than Penner’s breakaway at 5:58 and Todd Jackson’s shot that clanged off the crossbar at 7:00. Still, neither club could break the tie, forcing a third overtime and moving the game higher and higher on the all-time list for longest games.
By the third and final overtime, Maine had certainly taken control of the game. Whitehead noted after the game that his team’s depth was something that gave them a lot of confidence the longer the game went.
“We felt depth-wise that was an advantage,” said Whitehead, who was able to skate all four of his lines through all three overtimes while UMass shortened its bench at select times in the OT. “We rely on using all of our weapons, and we felt the longer [this game] went the stronger we would get.”
At 109:27, the game ranks fourth-longest in NCAA history. It shattered the old Hockey East record for both a championship game (77:50) and tournament game (96:26), and beat the record of Harvard-Cornell (ECAC) in 2002 for longest conference title game (96:11).
With the win, the Black Bears head to next weekend’s NCAA tournament on a high note. They are guaranteed a number one seed when tournament pairings are announced on Sunday afternoon.
In terms of qualifying the win, for Whitehead, it was easy.
“It would be tough to find one more exciting for me,” said Whitehead. “A lot of that is because there were a lot of opportunities for both teams.”
Thankfully for Whitehead and Maine, the final shot belonged to the Black Bears, and with that a Hockey East crown that ended one amazing marathon.