There’s nothing quite like overtime in playoff hockey. The pressure, the nerves, the immediacy, the split second it takes to score, to become the hero.
When captain Martin-Olivier Cardinal scored with just 5:25 to go in the third period of the gold medal game at the 2014 TELUS Cup, bringing the Grenadiers de Châteauguay even with the Prince Albert Mintos, every fan at Mosaic Place in Moose Jaw, Sask., and everyone watching at home on TSN2, knew the game had entered next-goal-wins territory.
They just didn’t expect it to come after 53 more minutes of action. Hockey is a game where every second counts, and this one had 6,516 to choose from.
As the clock ticked towards the end of the third overtime period, and the game became the longest in the 41-year history of Canada’s National Midget Championship, the Mintos got the break they had been waiting for.
“When I saw that we had blocked a shot in our end, my first instinct was to rush down the ice as fast as I could and hope for a two-on-one, and we got it,” remembers Dakota Boutin.
Driving towards the Chateauguay net, Boutin took a picture-perfect pass from Lance Yaremchuk and snapped a shot past the outstretched glove of Grenadiers netminder Étienne Montpetit to end the marathon after 108 minutes and 36 seconds of hockey.
“We definitely didn’t think that that would be how our season would end,” Boutin says of winning the Mintos’ third national championship in nine years. “But looking back at it now, it’s going to be a memory that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”
So outside of Boutin’s winner, which ranks atop the memorable-moment list for every Minto – and every Grenadier, but for the opposite reason – what stands out from playing more than 108 minutes of hockey?
The fatigue, obviously.
Montpetit ended the game with 57 saves – 28 of those in overtime – while the Mintos’ goaltender, Connor Ingram, made 60 saves, including 23 after regulation. Both finished the game physically and mentally exhausted.
“There were all kinds of granola bars and Gatorade, stuff to keep our energy up,” remembers Ingram. “But when you’re playing on the national stage and on live TV, in a game you’ve worked nine months for, you shouldn’t have any problem finding energy or extra motivation.”
“I was losing energy fast towards the end of the game, but it was the same for all the players so we didn’t think any team had an advantage at that time,” Montpetit says. “But I didn’t think about that. I stayed focused on making key saves and keeping things simple like I had done previously to get to that point.”
The goaltenders were the least of the worries for the two head coaches, Chateauguay’s Bruce Richardson and Prince Albert’s Ken Morrison, who had to contend with the tired bodies, and tired minds, of their 18 skaters.
“I knew the type of players I had and who my offensive weapons were,” says Richardson, who now serves as head coach of the QMJHL’s Victoriaville Tigres. “In order to win an overtime game you have to deploy those offensive-minded players as much as you can, but the reality is that they’re often not your best defensive players, so it’s kind of a high risk-reward situation.”
And that’s where overtime gets fun. As the minutes passed, and the top players played more and more, both coaches were tempted to look down their bench to see who could step up.
Edmonton Oilers fans remember Petr Klima, who came off the bench in triple overtime of Game 1 of the 1990 Stanley Cup Final to score the winner and get Edmonton on track for its fifth championship.
But for both coaches, putting out their ‘Petr Klima’ was easier said than done.
“You don’t want to be putting a player who’s barely played a shift in a while into that kind of pressure situation,” Richardson says. “You have to think of the player, but of the kid as well; you don’t want to make him uncomfortable by playing him in overtime, at the TELUS Cup, when he hasn’t been in a pressure situation all year.”
In the end, it didn’t matter; it was Boutin, one of the Mintos’ offensive standouts, who played hero.
For the Grenadiers, the disappointment of the loss will stay with them for the foreseeable future. But while it would have been easy to dwell on the loss, Châteauguay chose to look at the journey, not the result.
“We felt like it was both a huge accomplishment and a disappointment in the end,” says Cardinal. “We talked after the game and said that we had nothing to be ashamed of. We had given it our all so we had no reason to blame ourselves for the loss.
“It may sound cliché to say this but we walked alongside each other for close to 90 games that season and every moment helped us grow both as players and as individuals.”