HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Instant. Classic.
The Huntsville Havoc and Louisiana Ice Gators put on one of (if not THE) most exciting games in league history Friday night at the Von Braun Center, going to triple overtime in front of 4,202 passionate Havoc fans.. and even a handful of Ice Gator faithful who made the trip.
With a trip to the President's Cup Finals on the line, both teams came out ready to play.
The first 40 minutes of the game saw an intense defensive battle with the ice tilting back and forth.. Louisiana in control in the first period, Huntsville dominating in the second. There were a half dozen nail-biting scoring chances for both teams, but goaltenders Jesse Kallechy and Dustin Carlson did their duty - not allowing any shots through.
Finally, after countless close-calls and near-misses, the Havoc broke through. About four minutes into the third period, Carlson made a flurry of stops on a Havoc power-play. As his team returned to full strength, Carlson was unable to stop a Matt Smyth wrist shot from the top of the right face-off circle. The puck flew over his glove hand, and the arena erupted.
The Havoc went into lock-down mode after the goal, playing a game of keep-away from the Ice Gators, hoping to run out the clock. Time slipped away, and it looked as though the victory was secured when the Havoc cleared the puck down the ice, just wide of an empty net with 22 seconds to go. But, it couldn't possibly be that easy.
The Gators scooped it up and made one last charge towards Kallechy. A textbook "crash the net" situation led to a flurry of last second shots, one of which popped over Kallechy's sprawled out body and into the net with just 9.9 seconds left in the game.
Under normal circumstances, the game would have gone to a 3 on 3, five minute overtime. If no one scores, there would be a one on one shootout. The playoffs aren't normal circumstances. In virtually every level of hockey, there are no shootouts in the playoffs. Full, 20 minute periods are played until there's a winner.
Under normal circumstances, it doesn't take long to determine a winner in those conditions. Friday night wasn't a normal circumstance. The Havoc and Ice Gators battled through two full extra periods, with even more breath-taking saves, frustrating near-misses and brutalizing body checks.. and still no change on the score board. Players from both sides were visibly exhausted, but neither was willing to back down from the challenge.
Just two minutes after midnight - a full 11 minutes passed into the third period - Louisiana's Matt Robertson gathered up a loose puck and went skating down the far side wall. He passed the puck ahead to Weston Cydell, who fired a wrist shot from about 20 feet out. Kallechy made 60 saves up to that point, but wasn't able to make a 61st.
The Ice Gators bench poured onto the ice and swarmed Cydell along the wall, as Kallechy remained frozen in place, catching his breath and processing what had just happened. The Havoc and Ice Gators acknowledged the thousands of fans who remained, and were now giving both teams a standing ovation for the hard fought battle.
Even though they lost, an outpouring of support can be seen on the Havoc Facebook page, with many fans calling it the most exciting game they'd seen in years.
The Havoc & Ice Gators now embark on a ten hour bus ride to Lafayette, Louisiana, where they'll meet again Saturday night for the third and final game of the series.