This will be remembered forever by Charger fans as a classic. It’s a classic example of how far the Chargers have come this season, but also a classic playoff heartbreak.
Tyler Heinonen’s goal with 1:11 left in the third overtime lifted Michigan Tech to a 1-0 victory on Friday, taking game one of this best-of-3 WCHA quarterfinal series.
It’s hard to believe that back in late January, the Chargers were blown out of the John D. MacInnes Student Ice Center by scores of 5-0 and 11-1. But thanks to the historic effort by UAH goaltender Carmine Guerriero, the Chargers (8-25-4) were even with the fourth-ranked Huskies (27-8-2).
Guerriero made a 76 saves, an all-time record for UAH and the WCHA. They happened in a game that lasted 118:49, which is the longest game in both UAH’s and Michigan Tech’s histories, the second-longest in WCHA history, and the seventh-longest in NCAA history.
Game two is Saturday night at 6:07 p.m., and that won’t seem like a long time to rest for the Chargers after playing the equivalent of two games in one, especially since most of the action was in their end. Michigan Tech finished with a 77-32 shots on goal advantage, controlling possession right from the start.
But that did not mean the Chargers didn’t have scoring opportunities. Despite being credited with only three shots on goal in the first period, the Chargers may have put more pressure on the Huskies than in either of the two regular-season games in Houghton.
Michigan Tech was able to notch 11 shots on goal in the first, and had what amounted to an extended power play to help.
Richard Buri was called for holding when he took down MTU’s Reid Sturos with 6:15 left, and after UAH killed the ensuing power play, Buri iced the puck coming out of the box. That forced the Chargers to keep their penalty killers on the ice, and it took another minute for Guerriero to cover the puck and allow UAH to make a change. In that minute, Guerriero had to make three more saves.
Still, UAH kept the Huskies off the board, the first shutout period for the Chargers against the Huskies in six.
Michigan Tech kept pouring it on in the second period, but Guerriero was up to the task. He denied Joel L’Esperance on a partial break, and had to make several body saves and cover ups as the Huskies had three power play opportunities.
On on power play chance of the second period for Tech with 5:35 to go, the puck went by Guerriero as he tried to cover up, but a quick whistle led to the goal being immediately waved off. Guerriero then made a body save on Shane Hanna and had to pounce on another puck in the crease to keep the game scoreless.
UAH finished off another penalty kill to start the third period, and Guerriero continued to make saves. One was very close to being not, however, as a Tanner Kero drive went five-hole on Guerriero, and the puck trickled through the crease and wide of the net by about two inches with about 13 minutes left in regulation.
With 9:22 left in the third, the Chargers finally got their power play after Shane Hanna is called for high sticking. Then with 8:00 left, Matt Roy cross-checked Brennan Saulnier to the right of the Husky net, giving UAH a two-man advantage for 38 seconds.
Jack Prince’s chance from the slot was stopped by MTU goalie Jamie Phillips, who scrambled to cover as he finally started getting some work. Phillips made five saves during the 3:22 of UAH power play time, keeping the Chargers off the board.
UAH, which was outshot 28-6 in the first two period, outshot MTU 7-6 in the third as the teams finished scoreless in regulation.
In the first overtime, UAH had to kill off more Husky power play time. First, Brandon Parker was called for roughing with 10:23 left, but no goal.
But the biggest hit was by Brennan Saulnier, who crushed Tech’s Alex Petan in the UAH corner with 3:02 left in overtime. Petan was down for a few minutes but was able to leave the ice. Saulnier was given a five-minute checking from behind and a game misconduct, and with his third game misconduct will be disqualified for Saturday’s Game 2 and may get more discipline from the WCHA.
The Huskies had a couple of great chances during the power play near the end of the first overtime. Tanner Kero somehow got a shot of while being hampered in the slot, but Guerriero was able to get a blocker on it. Then, Joel L’Esperance, who had been denied by Guerriero on a couple of breakaways during the game already, was stopped again at the doorstep.
UAH killed the remaining 1:58 of the MTU major power play to keep going. Guerriero kept seeing rubber and keeping out of the net, including a Blake Pietila’s blast that stunned him in his upper left arm. He eventually broke UAH’s all-time single saves record of 62, which was set by Barry Friedman against Geneseo State in 1986.
The Chargers had a power play chance of their own with 6:17 left in the second overtime after a high stick by Mike Neville, but UAH could do nothing with it.
With 4:41 left in the second overtime, the game became the longest in UAH history, surpassing the 2007 NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal against Notre Dame, which UAH lost 3-2.
UAH had two power play chances in the third overtime, including a 4-on-3 situation, but despite jabs by Brandon Parker and Max McHugh, the Chargers could not score.
Then came Heinonsen’s game-winner on Michigan Tech’s 77th shot. He beat Guerriero high on a rebound, sending euphoria to the Husky faithful.
Phillips got the shutout with 32 saves.