by John Peterson
116 minutes and 57 seconds. Officially the longest game in North American Hockey League (NAHL) history ended at 16:57 of triple overtime, as the #1 Austin Bruins (43-20-1) defeated the #4 Minot Minotauros (25-36-3) 4-3 Saturday night (Sunday morning), to win their best-of-five first round series three games to one at Maysa Arena in Minot.
The Bruins had the better of the scoring chances for much of the first period, but were unsuccessful on two power-plays and stymied on 16 shots by Minotauros goaltender Brandon Wildung (Minneota, MN). Late in the period, Minot grabbed the momentum thanks to a goal by their captain, Tim Donohue (Prior Lake, MN). After the puck bounced hard off the boards, Cameron Rowat (Souris, Canada) fed a pass across the crease that Donohue tapped into the empty net. 11 seconds later Minot made it 2-0, when Colton Kramer (Sioux City, IA) threw a pass out front from behind the net for Luke Voltin (Blaine, MN), and Voltin tapped the shot through the five-hole of Austin goalie Nick Lehr (Roseville, MN).
Wildung cooled off in the second period under relentless pressure put on by the Bruins, who scored three goals in the middle frame. Easton Viitala (Marquette, MI) put Austin on the board at 5:54 of the second. Viitala was trailing a rush and skated in on the left wing, before lifting the puck over the glove of Wildung to make it 2-1. The Minotauros answered back when Jake Johnson (Madison, WI) batted a rebound off the post out of the air and into the net to give Minot the 3-1 lead. But a struggling Bruins power-play got going late in the period. Trey Dodd (St. Louis, MO) jammed home a loose puck in the crease to close the gap to a one goal deficit on a man-advantage. Then Lucas Kohls (Forest Lake, MN) knocked in a rebound in the very next Austin power-play to tie the game at 3-3 going into the second intermission. The Bruins outshot the Tauros 36-18 through two periods.
There were only ten combined shots in the third period, as neither team could put away the game-winner. And that was only the beginning of the marathon. Two more overtimes and still no scoring. The Bruins coaches were holding bananas, oranges and gatorade on the bench in the last two overtimes to keep the exhausted players nourished. Finally, at 16:57 of the third overtime, Kohls banged home the rebound, 81 minutes and 15 seconds after his game-tying goal, to send the Bruins through to the second round. Lehr stopped 50 shots in the win, while Wildung made 67 saves in the loss.
The Bruins move on the the Central Division Finals, where they’ll meet the Bismarck Bobcats for the third season in a row. Bismarck swept Aberdeen Friday night to advance. Games 1 and 2 will be Friday and Saturday night at Riverside Arena in Austin, with both games scheduled to start at 7:05pm. Both games can be heard on 1480AM KAUS or viewed online on fasthockey.com.