By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
After the first overtime, the chatter was upbeat in the Lehigh Valley Phantoms dressing room at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, N.C. Right where we want ’em, boys.
After the second overtime on Wednesday night, and with 100 total minutes of hockey already played against the Charlotte Checkers, the Phantoms were just as positive, but questions began to arise. Like, where’d the fans go?
“The crowd got smaller and smaller as the overtimes went on,” said Phantoms forward Cole Bardreau, the former Fairport High School star and an All-Greater Rochester selection in 2009.
After the third overtime, with the score still 1-1 despite enough hockey for two full games, jokes began. “Hurry up,” backup goalie Dustin Tokarski said to the older core of Phantoms players, “it’s past your bedtime.”
After the fourth OT period, when 140 minutes of hockey had still produced just the two goals, Tokarski said, “I better text my wife and let her know I’m OK.”
Amid the dehydration and the cramping and the extreme fatigue, the veteran goalie did his part to help out while starting goalie Alex Lyon was making an American Hockey League-record 94 saves against the Checkers.
“He was great, he kept the room light,” Bardreau said.
Finally, after 84 minutes and 48 seconds of overtime, and 144:48 of total time, Alex Krushelnyski ended the longest game in AHL history. At 1:09 a.m. on Thursday.
Only three NHL Stanley Cup playoff games have lasted longer, including the record of 116:30, a 1-0, six-OT marathon win by the Red Wings over the Montreal Maroons in the 1936 semifinals.
Bardreau provided the perfect centering pass to set up Krushelnyski 6:48 into the fifth overtime — the eighth period of the night, and then morning. Nearly two full games had been played — 119 minutes, 56 seconds — since the previous goal in the game, by Charlotte’s Patrick Brown at 6:52 of the second period.
“I saw his face and I saw the puck in the net and I threw my stick; I almost chucked my gloves like we won the Calder (Cup),” Bardreau said earlier today, when players from both teams recuperated. The Phantoms lead the second-round series 3-1, with Game 5 in Charlotte on Saturday.
Thanks to Krushelnyski, whose father, Mike, played more than 1,000 NHL games, the game that wouldn’t end, the game that couldn’t end, finally did end.
“It’s a good thing, I was cramping up pretty hard,” Bardreau said. “The chances kind of dwindled as the game went on. I remember thinking it was looking like a men’s league game everyone was so tired. There were very few hits being thrown because guys were too tired.”
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The puck bounced back toward the right of the slot and Bardreau gained possession, swung behind the net and the passed up the left of the slot. Krushelnyski was free in the left circle near the hash marks to fire a shot past Nedeljkovic (51 saves in the game).
“Colin McDonald started it by just throwing it to the net,” Bardreau said.
Players had been doing whatever they could to keep up their energy throughout overtime.
“It started off with oranges and then bananas,” Bardreau said.
By the seventh intermission of the night, the pan of brownies baked by the aunt of Phantoms center Mike Vecchione was being passed around the room. “He wasn’t real happy,” Bardreau joked.
When it was finally over, and a departure time back to the hotel was determined, Bardreau heard words he never thought he’d hear in a hockey dressing room.
“Usually our captain says ’11 o’clock bus.’ This time he said, ‘2:15 bus.’ ”
Welcome to the record book.
Longest games in AHL history
(Date, Teams and score, overtime periods, extra time played)
- May 9, 2018: Lehigh Valley 2, at Charlotte 1, 5th OT, 86:48.
- April 24, 2008: Philadelphia 3, at Albany 2, 4th OT, 82:58
- May 30, 2003: Houston 1, at Hamilton 2, 4th OT, 74:56
- April 10, 1982: Rochester 2, at New Haven 3, 4th OT, 74:08
- April 4, 1938: Syracuse 3, at Cleveland 2, 4th OT, 62:42