Over the summer, the powers that be in the CCHA announced that they would start deciding league games that would otherwise end in ties with shootouts in the new season. When ECAC Hockey rivals Quinnipiac and Union met in Omaha on Friday in the first game of the Mutual of Omaha Stampede, they clearly wanted in on the fun.
They got it, but nobody in attendance could have anticipated that it would come before the end of any overtime session.
What initially looked like a blowout win quickly went south for the Bobcats after the first period, as the Dutchmen fought back from an early 4-0 deficit to tie it up and eventually win 6-5 in front of a sadly near-empty Qwest Center in Omaha.
In a sense, the game was a microcosm of the Bobcatsâ€™ 2007-08 campaign, running roughshod over their opponents early on, but allowing it all to fall apart near the end. Whereas six losses on the bounce at the end of the regular season did them in last year, though, Friday afternoon saw two goals from Union sophomore winger StÃ©phane Boileau give QU fans flashbacks.
In truth, the Dutchmen gifted QU the early lead. A host of penalties within a 90 second span early in the first period, including a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct penalty to
Union center Kelly Zajac, led to Bryan Leitch feeding Brandon Wong in front of the net for a power play goal and an early 1-0 lead for the Bobcats.
Unionâ€™s misery would be compounded just 1:58 later, when senior defenseman Andrew Meyer barreled in on Dutchmen netminder Corey Milanâ€™s goal and scored from an acute angle. The Bobcats would replicate the trick 1:06 later when Wong scored again, this time on a wraparound.
Add Wongâ€™s hat trick goal with 28 seconds left in the frame to the mix, and a rout appeared to be well and truly on.
Union head coach Nate Leaman had plenty of reason to come back into the dressing room after the first period and give his team a verbal trouncing, but instead opted for a more positive route.
â€œWe just talked about staying positive, really,â€ he said. â€œI didnâ€™t go in there and go holler and scream. We just talked about staying positive and staying together, and thatâ€™s what they did.â€
Whatever Leaman had to say to his team in the dressing room certainly worked, as Union forwards Kevin Walters, John Simpson and Boileau all scored in the second period to cut the deficit to one before sophomore Adam Presizniuk equalized at 17:12 on a power play marker.
What had once looked like the makings of an annihilation had just as quickly turned into — pardon the pun — a shootout.
After another twenty minutes went by with the two teams scoring once each and remaining locked in a stalemate, it became apparent that overtime would ultimately decide the game.
Quinnipiac looked especially desperate to spare themselves blushes late on, but a slashing call against Bobcat defenseman Mark Nelson deep in the Bobcatsâ€™ zone led to a power-play winner for the Dutchmen on a rebound shot from Boileau, ending perhaps the most memorable game in the nine-year history of the tournament.
Leaman was glowing in terms of praise for his team after the win.
â€œI love the character of our team. Itâ€™s early-season hockey, and itâ€™s a little sloppy, but we found out a lot about our team tonight; that we have the character to come back from four goals down, stay together and keep playing as a team, and Iâ€™m very happy with that,â€ he said. â€œThe character of our team is that we can come back from anything, that we have that potential, that we have the ability to do that.â€
QU head coach Rand Pecknold declined to comment about the penalty in overtime after the game. He would make no bones, however, about what his team would have to do to win Saturday afternoonâ€™s consolation game against American International.
â€œI give a lot of credit to Union. I thought they were really the better team tonight, even in the first period. I thought we were opportunistic, but they kept their feet moving and outworked us for most of the game,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m disappointed because we have eight seniors in the lineup, and they just sort of went through the motions, and we need to respect every game we have.â€
â€œUltimately we need a better effort. We need to play harder. I didnâ€™t think we played very hard today.â€