by Matthew Webb
Senior Writer, D3hockey.com
ST. PETER, Minn. -- If Division III college hockey had an official designator of "instant classics," they'd have had to look no further than Friday's opening round NCAA tournament contest between Gustavus Adolphus and UW-Eau Claire as after the host Gusties scored with one minute remaining in regulation to tie the game, 2-2, it took not one, not two, but three overtimes for a winner to emerge.
But a winner there finally was when, at 1:02 of the third overtime, Eau Claire's Emma Peterson took a centering pass from Elizabeth Bauer and beat Gustavus netminder Amanda DiNella to propel the Blugolds to a 3-2 win. The win marked the first NCAA tournament win in program history for Eau Claire and advances it to face Hamline in a Saturday night quarterfinal, which will also be played at Gustavus Adolphus.
With a game runtime of 101:02, Friday night's marathon stands as the longest game in Women's Division III tournament history, far surpassing the mark of 85:58 set in a 2004 NCAA quarterfinal, also played at Gustavus, between the Gusties and UW-Stevens Point. It was just the third Division III Women's NCAA Tournament game to go to at least a second overtime, and quite possibly was the longest game in Women's DIII history, period, though the NCAA record book does not list the current record.
A tripping penalty on Gustavus just 3:13 into the first period gave Eau Claire its first power play of the night and though it needed nearly the entire two minutes to capitalize, capitalize it did when with just nine seconds remaining on the advantage Kelly Knetter deflected a shot by Monica Sjodin past Gusties' netminder Amanda DiNella and it was 1-0 Blugolds.
At the 16:49 mark of the period the Blugolds extended their lead to 2-0 and the goal came on another shot from out high when Morgan Zirbel's wrister from straight on wound its way through traffic and past DiNella clean.
Before the period had drawn to a close Gustavus answered back when, with just 29 seconds remaining in the frame, Amelia Visen one-timed a pass from Allie Stanger past Eau Claire goaltender Erin Connolly and into the open net to draw within one at 2-1, which is how the opening 20 minutes ended.
Gustavus carried a slim 7-5 shot advantage in the period.
The game's tenor changed in the second period as though Eau Claire was still able to manage some offense of its own, it was marked by Gustavus' ability to maintain possession and sustain consistent pressure once established in the Blugolds' zone.
Still seeking the equalizer in the closing minutes of the stanza, the Gusties nearly found it with just over two minutes remaining when Erin Moe skated into the right side of the Eau Claire zone, made a fantastic move to the middle past an Eau Claire defender, and got a wide open look from 15 feet out but the shot was kicked aside by Connolly.
Just 45 seconds later it looked like Gustavus had leveled the score when a shot from the right point by Kristen Cash got by Connolly and the goal light went on immediately -- but the near-side official also reacted immediately with the signal of no-goal. After a discussion between the officials and the goal judge the verdit was in: no goal, as both deemed the puck hit the crossbar and then the red line but did not cross it.
The second period ended with Eau Claire still up 2-1, though the mounting Gustavus pressure was starting to take its toll on the Blugolds as it posted a 14-6 shot advantage in the period which ran its total edge to 21-11.
The Gusties' ability to sustain pressure once established in the Blugolds' zone was a harbinger of things to come.
Continually able to maintain possession in the Eau Claire zone, Gustavus rang up an 18-2 shot advantage in the final period but it wasn't until the closing stages and in a four-on-four suituation that the Gusties finally managed to get DiNella off the ice for an extra skater. Just eight seconds after the extra-attacker came on it was Vosen again, who this time who was waiting back door when a Katy Fuller shot down the goal line from the right side trickled through the crease and right to her where she chipped it in to make it 2-2 and ultimately force the first of what would become three overtimes.
By the end of regulation the Gustavus shot advantage had swelled to 39-13.
The overtimes rolled on with neither side able to notch the game-winner, despite the fact Eau Claire had a power play in the first extra session while Gustavus received two of its own in the second. Despite the lack of a deciding goal, the first 40 minutes of bonus time was anything but sluggish as both sides were inches from scoring on numerous occastions and both Connolly and DiNella made multiple game-saving stops. One of Gustavus' best chances came with just four seconds remaining in the first overtime when a redirect right at the top of the crease looked like it was headed five-hole on Connolly but she was able to slam the door at the last second, while the Blugolds nearly won it about five minutes into the second overtime when Courtney Wittig beat DiNella only to see her shot ring off the left post.
A penalty on Gustavus with 1:03 remaining in the second overtime carried over into the third and though the Gusties managed to successfully kill it off, it was just five seconds thereafter that Wittig set up Bauer, who set up Peterson for the game-winner.
Gustavus finished with a 60-29 shot advantage but was held off the board for most of the night thanks in no small part to the play of Connolly, who finished the night with 58 saves -- many of them not easy ones. The 58 saves check in just five short of the all-time Women's Division III tournament record of 63, set by St. Thomas' Karina Marette in 2014.
DiNella finished with 26 saves for Gustavus, which wrapped up another impressive season with yet another NCAA tournament appearance and a 20-4-4 record. For Eau Claire, a short turnaround and a 7:00 p.m. quarterfinal date with Hamline looms. The two have faced off once this season with Eau Claire claiming a 3-0 win on November 2.
more to come....