Unlike its NCAA brethren hoops, baseball, and football, settling tie games in “sudden death” is a fixture in college hockey. The more appropriate moniker would be “sudden joy,” the raw emotion of 15 teammates hopping the boards for a dog-pile celebration on one end of the rink. Three such skate-off explosions occurred on WCHA ice this past weekend, as Huntsville, Bemidji, and Lake Superior State gained victories by working overtime. Each contest had its own poignant story-line; each ended in an instant.
Act I: Ferris State vs Alabama Huntsville
The Von Braun center allowed over 1,100 fans to see the Chargers’ home opener, including packs of hyper hockey kids in team jerseys who never stopped vibrating. The was plenty of electricity generated by nine goals and three lead changes. The fact that neither contestant had yet to claim a win this season made the action — and the actors — all the more desperate.
Simply getting to overtime required a near-miracle by the Chargers, as evidenced by this scintillating score off the rush by Chargers Ben Allen. The junior forward sprinted 100 feet in the closing seconds to avert defeat, collecting a pass on his backhand and driving a wrist shot all in one motion.
A unique scenario resulted: two clubs fighting for their first win of the season in sudden death, a 3-on-3 variety which makes scoring the decisive goal seemingly inevitable. In other words, something had to give for one of these clubs. And Ferris was in a giving mood, whistled for too many men halfway through the five-minute OT session.
Rather than removing a Bulldog, 3-vs-3 protocol dictates that the victimized team add a player, creating a four on three advantage for Hunstville. The Chargers wasted no time, swinging the puck across the hashmarks and into the wheelhouse of Dayne Finnson. The UAH junior hammered the biscuit into the top shelf, unleashing a mob of white jerseys that nearly swallowed the linesman.
Act II: Bemidji State at Bowling Green
The nearest college hockey venue to Huntsville is Bowling Green, an eight-and-a-half hour bus ride north through Louisville. While the Chargers were battling the Bulldogs, Bowling Green was attempting to extend its nine-game winning streak in overtime against a formidable Bemidji State club. The Beavers jumped the Falcons at the start of the extra session, and Bowling Green never recovered.
The loss, which has become exceedingly rare during the Ty Eigner reign in northern Ohio, dropped the Falcons a slot into eighth place in the USCHO national poll.
Act III: Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan
This was a tale of two clubs heading in opposite directions. While the Lakers have jumped off to a 6-1-3 record and flirted with the national polls, the talented but snakebit Wildcats have made a habit of shooting themselves in the foot, with only two wins to accompany their six losses.
Saturday night’s Upper Peninsula rivalry game with Lake Superior was a microcosm of their respective seasons. Northern jumped off to a 2-0 lead, but the Lakers chipped away with two third-period goals by junior Pete Veillette, the tying goal coming with under three minutes to play. Going into overtime, the Cats took an unnecessary penalty, something that has become routine for this Northern Club. Once it again, it cost them on the scoreboard.
The Lakers exploited the 4-on-3 advantage, as Frenchman Louis Boudon punched in the OT thriller. It led to a lengthy Laker party behind the Wildcat net.
The Laker joy was inversely proportional to the Wildcat misery, as bench boss Grant Potulny must put out fires from both within the crease and in the box.
Three WCHA dramas played out last weekend, the fortune of six clubs taking severe turns for better or worse, all in the heightened realm of sudden death.
Tim Rappleye is the author of two books: Jack Parker's Wiseguys and Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review. You can find him on Twitter.