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Wilderness win Game 1 in fourth OT

by John Peterson

 

Two teams that saw four of its eight regular season meetings go to overtime this year played a four-overtime marathon Friday night/Saturday morning in Game 1 of the Robertson Cup Finals at Riverside Arena in Austin. The Minnesota Wilderness ultimately defeated the Austin Bruins 2-1, scoring 13:03 into the fourth overtime period in the longest game in NAHL history.

Both goalies were superb from the get-go, setting the tone for the game. Austin narrowly outshot Minnesota 9-8 in the scoreless first period, as the Bruins’ Evan Smith (Parker, CO) and Wilderness’ Brock Kautz (Rochester, MN) were called upon to make big saves in the early going.

The Wilderness outplayed the Bruins through most of the second period, and were reward late in the frame when Minnesota’s fourth line broke the scoreless tie. Isak Bergland (Thief River Falls, MN) skated into the Austin zone on the left wing and sauced a centering pass over for Alex Toscano (Duluth, MN), who split the Bruins’ defense cutting to the net, and Toscano tapped the quick one-timer past Smith at 16:31 of the period.

While Austin struggled to generate consistent scoring chances in regulation, the Bruins found a way to beat Kautz late in the third to tie the game. Captain Brian Bachnak (Riverview, MI) shot the puck from far out along the left wing wall, and the rebound was kicked out to JC Maclean (Basking Ridge, NJ). Maclean swept the second attempt through Kautz’s five-hole with 4:30 to play to force overtime. Little did anyone know that the teams would play a whole second game, and then some.

As the play opened up in the first overtime, both teams had chances to win it. Kautz stood tall in his net, while Smith made the biggest save of the night, a cartwheeling pad stop on a breakaway attempt from Minnesota’s Dan Litchke (Superior, WI). The Wilderness twice missed the open net on backdoor feeds in the final minutes of the first overtime, and the marathon was just beginning.

At 16:59 of the third OT, the two teams set a new NAHL record for the longest game in the league’s 40-year history, eclipsing Austin’s triple-overtime win last spring in Minot in the 2014 Central Division Semifinals. With two full games complete, the Bruins and Wilderness went back to their respective locker rooms to rest for a fourth overtime.

13:03 into quadruple-overtime, Minnesota’s Billy Exell (Thunder Bay, ON) walked around the Austin defense on the left wing and crashed the net, jamming the puck past Smith to end the longest game in league history at 12:33am local time, 133 minutes and three seconds of game time after it had started. The win is the Wilderness’ ninth consecutive victory since dropping the first two of its first round series against Coulee Region. Smith and Kautz each stopped 47 shots.

Game 2 of the Robertson Cup Finals is later tonight at Riverside Arena in Austin at 7:05pm. Limited tickets are still available at the Bruins’ box office. For those unable to attend, the game can be viewed online at fasthockey.com. The radio broadcast will be on 1480AM KAUS, with coverage starting at 6:50pm. If necessary, Game 3 would be Sunday at 5:30pm at Riverside Arena.