GREEN BAY, Wis. — After 111 minutes on the clock, four hours and 40 minutes of actual time and 100 shots on goal, this game ended in what seemed like a split second.
When Cornell goaltender David McKee played the puck behind the net, swiping it out around the side board, Wisconsin defenseman Josh Engel could have fallen back to play defense. Instead, he made a quick decision to jump up and play the puck, a decision that paid off with a trip to the Frozen Four.
He heard teammate Jack Skille calling his name as he got to the puck, and quickly Engel backhanded a pass toward the freshman who was streaking through the center of the UW offensive zone.
“I just heard him and looked last second and saw him,” Engel said. “I wasn’t really thinking, I just backhanded it to him.”
The pass was dead on, and Skille one-timed a blazer over McKee’s left shoulder to end the second-longest game in NCAA tournament history and fifth-longest game ever, at 11:13 of the third overtime in a 1-0 thriller.
“It was just a line change and I saw the puck being wrapped around and was just driving towards the net and called for the puck,” said Skille, a native of Madison, Wis. “[After it went in] I saw my teammates clearing the bench and coming toward me.”
In the blink of an eye it was all over, though what came before the goal will not be forgotten anytime soon by those who were in attendance.
“When was the last time you’ve seen 100 shots in a hockey game and goaltending of that caliber and efforts from everybody on the ice?” UW head coach Mike Eaves pondered. “I said to [Cornell head coach Mike Schafer] after the game, ‘It’s a shame that someone had to walk away from this game not going on to Milwaukee, because both teams definitely deserve to be there.’”
For the Badgers, the win punched their ticket to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1992. For the Big Red, however, it meant their season ended in the Regional final for the second straight year.
“That’s one of the most exciting…games that hockey has seen,” Schafer said. “It’s tough to explain in words how proud I am of our guys. I asked them not to have any regrets and they don’t.”
While it was undoubtedly one of the hardest ways to end a season – and for some a career – looking back on it a few days from now, it would be hard to have any regrets. And it was not just due to the length of the contest, but also because, despite the low score, it was such an exciting game.
Contributing to that excitement was one of the best goaltending battles in recent memory. It was no secret that McKee and UW’s Brian Elliott were probably going to keep the game a low-scoring affair, but nobody could have expected this.
McKee made 59 saves in 111 minutes, but it was the 60th Badger shot – and 100th of the game – that finally found its way by him. Along the way he made some brilliant saves, but considering the outcome, McKee was still not happy in the end.
“A loss is a loss,” the junior said. “We really wanted to move on and go to the Frozen Four. We’re just pretty bitter.”
Somehow, at the other end of the ice, Elliott pulled off an equally impressive outing. He made 40 saves in the contest, and probably none of them bigger than two quality opportunities minutes before the game-ending goal.
“The first one I thought the guy was going to shoot…and then he passed it over, so I just went back to the post and got my blocker on it,” Elliott said. “The other one was just something I knew that part of the net was open and that was the only place he could score so I just fired a leg out there and got some piece of equipment on it.”
Even more impressive than 111 minutes of shutout hockey are the numbers Elliott has posted in recent weeks. The win marked his third blanking in a row and fifth in his last eight starts. Elliott and the defensemen in front of him have not allowed a goal in more than 252 consecutive minutes.
The Hobey Baker Award finalist has picked a great time to make his last-ditch campaign.
“As far as having three shutouts in a row, I don’t think that I would have ever thought that could happen,” Eaves said. “It’s just one of those moments when Brian is playing terrific and the people in front of him are playing well too.”
Playing well is an understatement. Heading into the game the Badgers had already moved into the No. 1 spot in the country defensively, allowing just 1.90 goals per game.
Earlier this year, they had proved to the world that they did not have a defense-first mentality. They can still say that, as they boast 3.42 goals per game themselves, but that defense certainly is coming in handy.
And Wisconsin put the exclamation point on the success of its defense recently by blocking 20 shots.
“The guys in front of me have been unreal lately,” Elliott said. “Everybody’s all-out and you can’t say enough about the guys in front of me.”
Eaves has played and coached in as well as seen a number of great games, and this is just another to add to his list.
“I think that’s a college game that everybody who was in the building will be talking about for a long time.”