By Shane Frederick
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — There were a lot of people who watched Sunday’s Olympic gold-medal game between the U.S. and Canada and proclaimed it to be one of the greatest hockey games of all time.
There are many people in St. Peter who would beg to differ.
In fact, a lot of those people would say that Canada’s 3-2 overtime win wasn’t even the best hockey game of the weekend.
That title would belong to the Gustavus Adolphus and Augsburg men’s hockey teams, who played for 5 1/2 hours before their MIAC semifinal game was finally decided.
Gustavus won the four-overtime thriller 6-5 on Eric Bigham’s unassisted, wrap-around goal from his knees at 12:35 a.m., after 138 minutes, 38 seconds of hockey.
“As I try to pull out pieces of that game, I can’t tell you if something happened in the third overtime or the third period,” Gusties coach Brett Petersen said.
The game was the longest in NCAA Division III history and the second-longest in all of college hockey, falling about three minutes short of the record. The Gusties fired 104 shots on Auggies goalie Justin Lochner, who set a Division III record for 95 saves. Meanwhile, Gustavus’ goalie Josh Swartout faced 57 shots.
“We had phenomenal chances every single period,” Petersen said.
Despite dealing with fatigue, Bigham somehow conjured up enough energy to score the game-winner 82 seconds before the teams would have gone into a fifth overtime.
The senior wing had the puck behind the net and spun away from a defenseman and toward the goal line and the left post. He “was either tripped or fell,” Petersen said, but kept the puck on his stick before stuffing it between Lochner’s pads.
That set off a frantic, late-night/early morning celebration on the Don Roberts Ice Rink and in the bleachers, which were packed not only with hockey fans but overflowing with many others who had walked across Lund Center after the men’s basketball team’s overtime loss a few hours earlier.
“I was surprised when we came out (of the locker room) for the fourth overtime,” Petersen said. “It was 12:15 (a.m.) and nobody had left. ... It was insane.”
Petersen said he had never experienced anything like that game before — as a coach or as a player.
“Between overtimes, I’d walk into the room and say, ‘I’m out of things to say.’ ...
“You get punch drunk.”
The Gustavus coach had high praise for the Auggies, who advanced to the semifinals after defeating St. Olaf on Friday night — in double overtime.
“We have to tip our hats to Augsburg,” Petersen said. “At the conclusion of our game, Augsburg had played a total of four games in 30 hours. ... That’s a lot of hockey.”
A few folks have remarked that playing that much hockey is too much and that perhaps such a game should be decided by other measures.
In the Olympic final, the teams played 4-on-4 hockey in overtime and would have gone to a shootout after 20 minutes.
That would have been disappointing.
“Looking back, I would not change one thing,” Petersen said of his game. “That’s was the right way to end a playoff game, regardless of how it turned out.”
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com.