TRAVERSE CITY — It can be argued that Monday’s historic hockey game between Traverse City West and the Bay Reps deserved to have two winners.
That has really only happened once in Michigan history, when Marquette and Orchard Lake St. Mary’s were declared co-state champions in the 2008 Division 1 final that lasted eight overtimes with no winning goal.
But in a playoff game prior to the state finals, that wasn’t an option.
So, the game went on. And on. And on. And on.
It wasn’t until the seventh eight-minute overtime — when West’s Nick Schultz found an open Erik Anton, who converted — that the Division 1 regional marathon at Howe Arena was decided. West 2, Bay Reps 1.
“I thought the game was intense before it even started,” Titans senior captain Jake Saxton said. “We knew we would have to play at our best to beat them. It was the perfect playoff game.”
The Titans thought they had won it in the first minute of the seventh overtime when Saxton ripped a slapper that clanged off the crossbar and post. The goal judge lit the red lamp, but the referees didn’t agree, and wouldn’t count it.
“When I scored what looked like the game-winner, but got waived off, it gave me a flash back from last year’s playoff game,” Saxton said. “I knew that the puck went in despite the ref’s call, but we had to move on and score again, which Erik was able to do. It was one of the best games I have ever played in. I am very proud to have made history with this team.”
In last year’s regional game, the Reps won 5-4 in overtime after West had a goal waived off with 1:44 left in regulation. Zach Hill went on to score the game-winner less than a minute into the first extra period.
Memories of that game were instantly recalled after this one.
“When the goal got called off after Jake Saxton shot the puck and it went bar down and out, I thought it would be a replay from last year when we were playing the Bay Reps in our first playoff game and the puck got lodged under the net and the referee lost sight of the puck and the goal was called off,” West junior forward Ryan Fernandez said. “After Jake’s goal was called off, I was just determined to win because the awful feeling of last year just got back in my head. After seeing Erik Anton’s goal go in the net, it was an instant relief and we all sprinted to him to celebrate. It was the best feeling in the world.”
“Everyone was moving a little slower in the seventh OT, and there was a little bit of a turnover at their blueline,” West coach Jeremy Rintala said Monday night. “Nick Schultz was able to get his stick on it and made a nice pass over to Anton. He had just a little bit of room. I don’t know if their D was screening (goalie Jay Jones), but Erik made a good shot and beat the goaltender. I think in a few days, the Reps will look back and feel it’s pretty special. I’m sure it hurts right now.”
Reps players weren’t happy with the loss, but were appreciative to have been a big part of history, as the game was the second-longest in Michigan high school hockey history and perhaps the fifth-longest in all of the United States.
“That was definitely the most memorable game of my life,” Reps defender John VanRaalte said. “I’ll never forget it. It was really tough to step off the ice with a loss, especially as a senior. It was heartbreaking. But we can all hold our heads high knowing that we never gave up and we never stopped fighting for the win. Everyone worked their butts off and I couldn’t be more proud to be a member of the Reps. It was tough to lose after four and a half hours of hard-fought hockey, but we wouldn’t even have made it two and a half hours without our goalie. Jay stood on his head and made some incredible saves to keep us going. We had a lot of great opportunities and kept working for it, but we just couldn’t catch a lucky bounce. Even with the loss, it was an incredible to have been a part of, and a satisfying way to finish my career.”
West took a 1-0 first-period lead on Caleb Breithaupt’s hard wrister to the far post, but that was the only puck that would get past Jones until eight more periods of hockey had passed.
The Reps’ Garrett Diola scored his third goal of the season — his first year on varsity — just over a minute into the third period to knot the game up at 1-1 on a shot from a sharp angle.
“It all happened so fast,” the sophomore said. “I picked the puck up in the corner and took it to the net. I knew Brendan (Lacharite) would stop anything high, so I went five-hole and it found its way to the back of the net.”
West (11-15) now moves on to play Manistee tonight at Howe. Rintala said the team had a “light” skate on Tuesday.
“These guys need to get some rest,” Rintala said.
Multiple-overtime thrillers are nothing new to Howe Arena.
Last year’s Reps overtime win was at Howe, and Traverse City Central beat Midland 4-3 in three overtimes at Howe in the 2009 playoffs, a year after losing to the same team in quadruple overtime in Alpena.
Jones ended up making 48 saves and Lacharite 30.
Minnesota’s longest high school hockey game of 11 overtimes was when Minneapolis South nipped Thief River Falls, 3-2, in 1955. - See more at: http://www.chacha.com/question/what-is-the-longest-high-school-hockey-game-ever-played-in-mn#sthash.KDlj5fIE.dpuf
“I knew from the beginning it was going to be a battle between Cherry and me,” said Jones, a sophomore who was in net for all but one of the team’s victories this season. “I have played with both him and Tyler (Buchanan) for years and they are both amazing goaltenders. It was a hard-fought team battle that will definitely go down in history. This kind of game really speaks volumes about the community we live in. There was nothing but nice words exchanged in the lobby and on social media. At the end of the day, I am good friends with half of that West team and I respect every one of them.”
For Anton — who missed a large chunk of last season due to spinal myelitis that left him temporarily paralyzed — it was his lucky day. He scored the game-winner with his seventh goal of the season in the seventh overtime.
“It was me and Nick Schultz out there,” Anton said. “He got the puck at the blue line and their defenseman stepped up on him so he dished the puck over to me. I took a few strides into the zone and wound up for a slap shot and fell over on the follow-through because I was so exhausted. I was shocked when I looked up and saw the red light go off behind the net. All I could really think of at that moment was that it was finally over. After playing for so long, working as hard as you can for every shift, you become so mentally and physically exhausted that it becomes difficult to fully process what’s going on. When I scored that final goal, I had a hard time really wrapping my mind around the idea that we had won the game. Both teams played their hearts out, and after seven overtimes the game really could have gone either way. I’m good friends with some of the players on the Reps, so having to go up against kids you grew up playing hockey with in the first game of playoffs, knowing that if you lose you go home, provides an extra incentive to work even harder. Both us and the Reps deserved to win that game.”
“It’s tough to have a loser in a game like that, because both teams played so hard,” Reps coach Todd Spaulding said. “Their goalie, their team, they played just as hard as we did. It could have happened either way, with a bounce here or a bounce there.”
The Reps and Titans shortened their benches in the overtimes, meaning even more work for their top lines.
“They were really tired,” Spaulding said. “The strategy was to not make any major mistakes. When we got any opportunities, we tried to shoot as many pucks to the net as we could, and hopefully get a bounce. I’m really proud of all my kids. Really proud. It’s an awesome game and it’ll be something they remember for a long time.”
The Reps (7-18-1) used only 4-5 defensemen and 7-8 forwards during all seven overtimes.
“I couldn’t ask for one single bit more out of my kids,” Spaulding said. “Jay Jones was extremely awesome in net. It was a tough loss, but I’m proud of them.
“Way back when in regulation, we hit a post. We had our opportunities.”
Both teams — especially the Reps — were playing dump-and-change instead of the typical dump-and-chase in order to keep fresh legs on the ice. Or at least as fresh as possible.
“It was a hard-fought game by both teams until the very end,” Schultz said. “(Monday) night was what we have practiced and worked hard all year for.”
Through four OTs, West had a 34-20 advantage in shots, including 10-2 combined in the third and fourth extra sessions. Aside from a nine-shot binge by West in the third overtime, neither team managed more than three shots on goal in any of the first four extra sessions as the defenses ruled the neutral zone.
“I thought the game was intense the entire time, and every shift was do or die,” West defenseman Jeff Linenger said. “We just had to keep our legs going the entire time and push through the pain. By time we were in to the fourth overtime, it honestly felt like the game was never going to end.”