MADISON, Wis. — Although it will go down in the books as a tie, it was obvious from the violent arguing coming from the Lake Superior State bench that the Lakers had a lot of emotion invested in winning the 20th Badger Hockey Showdown.
They same can’t be said for the WCHA replay officials.
With the game deadlocked at one after overtime and the two teams needing a shootout to determine the tournament champion, Wisconsin senior Tom Gorowsky officially scored the shootout’s only goal, helping the Badgers win their 10th Showdown championship Sunday night in Madison.
“We are definitely excited,” said freshman center Derek Stepan about the Badgers winning their own tournament for the first time since 2005. “We wanted to make sure coming off break that we played hard both games. It was definitely the goal from the start to get the championship win and we did what we needed to do.”
After Gorowsky scored on the first attempt in the shootout, the next four shooters drew blanks, bringing up Lake Superior State’s Troy Schwab, the Lakers’ leading scorer, needing a goal to force sudden death.
Using a little stutter step, Schwab fired a shot on UW goalie Shane Connelly’s left side. Originally stopping the puck’s momentum with his glove, the puck fell out of Connelly’s glove onto the goal line as he landed on the ground and appeared to be dangerously close to crossing over the line.
Head referee and WCHA official Brad Shepherd, standing mere feet from the play, waved off the goal immediately, sending the Badgers into a celebratory frenzy as the team created a dog pile on top of Connelly.
To make doubly sure it was a goal, Shepherd went to check the video replay, only to find out that the replay officials had turned off the system after the overtime period, thinking the game had concluded.
The shootout was nothing new to Lake Superior State (5-8-7), as the CCHA has adopted the shootout for the first time this season. On the other hand, the WCHA sticks with a tie after a deadlocked first overtime period, making a shootout a foreign post-game activity.
As it turns out, ignorance was bliss for Wisconsin.
“They couldn’t review it because they turned (the replay) off after the five minutes of overtime,” LSSU head coach Jim Roque said. “They never left it on for the shootout. That just tells you how it’s going for us this season.”
Connelly was named the tournament’s most valuable player after he stopped 35 shots on the weekend (25 on Sunday night) and all three attempts in the shootout, but it was his final stop that drew most of the inquiries.
“There was part of the puck that definitely went across the line but the rule states that the puck has to be entirely over the goal line,” Connelly said confidently. “I was looking at it and the ref was right there and I know for a fact that it did not go it. There was no white between the puck and the goal line.”
If either team was unhappy with the result, they only have themselves to blame for not executing on their chances in regulation.
For Wisconsin (10-7-3), Stepan hit two posts, Michael Davies hit one crossbar, Andy Bohmbach was denied twice from point-blank range and Jordy Murray couldn’t corral the puck with a wide-open net in front of him. Not only could UW not convert, they were sloppy, as the Badgers didn’t play with the same intensity that led them to a dominating victory in the semifinals.
“It was very frustrating,” said UW coach Mike Eaves, who cringed frequently during a sloppy third period. “We were not very aware of what we were trying to do and they were winning puck battles. It was in part to what they were doing, but we didn’t react very well and we didn’t execute the battle plan. We were not as sharp as we were last night.”
The Lakers, meanwhile, hit three posts of their own, as Pat Aubry nailed the post with four minutes, 20 seconds left in regulation while Steven Kaunisto and Rick Schofield both beat Connelly and nailed the left post during the shootout, setting the stage for the controversy.
“We played great, we had a chance to win the game but that’s our team right there; we get chances and can’t score,” Roque said. “Our goalies make great saves but let (expletive) goals in. We leave them no room for error and that’s how it’s been. I thought we deserved better.”
With time winding down in the third period, however, it looked as if Lake Superior State was finally going to break through in the Showcase after two past second place finishes. After Zac MacVoy scored his eighth goal of the season with 16:24 on the clock, the Badgers, having shown no strong signs as of yet, finally made their move.
Looking to pass the puck back to one of his linemates, John Mitchell’s pass hit Schwab’s skate, sending the puck right back onto his stick. Taking advantage of the lucky bounce, Mitchell fired a shot that ricocheted off the inside of goalie Pat Inglis’ pad and into the back of the net to tie the score with less than two minutes left in the game.
“That’s one of the silver linings of tonight,” Eaves said. “As much as we struggled and didn’t do things to a high degree, the type of the goal that John scored was the type of goal that fit the game for us, a grinding goal. Later on in the year, there are going to be other times this year when something like this will happen and we can draw from this experience.
“It’s not in the ‘L’ column, which is important for us. We can be proud that we had a chance to put in there.”