Golden games, vol.2: 10th anniversary of women’s hockey’s six-overtime victory

Gaels’ shocker against Guelph still holds record for longest collegiate hockey game

Ten years ago, the women’s hockey team played the longest hockey game in collegiate history.
In the ninth period of a game that seemed like it may never end, the former women’s hockey centre and current assistant coach, Morgan McHaffie, dove to the Guelph net for a rebound. In part due to adrenaline and in part due to a fanned shot, when she landed right beside the post, she witnessed the end of collegiate hockey’s longest game in history, as if in slow motion.
“I remember laying on the ice, seeing [the puck] cross the goal line and it was just instant relief, like we did it. It was almost like the whole playoff run coming together watching the puck cross that line.”
The game that had started at 7:37 p.m. on a Wednesday was finally over at 12:52 the next morning, after a draining 167 minutes and 14 seconds of gameplay. In addition to setting the record for the longest ever collegiate hockey game for both men and women, it was also a landmark victory in a historic season for women’s hockey. 
The Gaels went on to win the second game of their best-of-three series against Guelph for the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship title, along with a berth to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national playoffs, where the team landed a bronze medal. 
However, while they ended with a banner season, Head Coach Matt Holmberg noted their remarkable run started out shaky. Going into the holiday break, the women’s team was under .500, a rarity for Queen’s hockey. The first game back was against the reigning provincial champs, Laurier University, and was viewed as the time to right the ship. But this plan was also thwarted, with the Gaels falling 8-1.
“There was sort of a general feeling at that point that ‘man, maybe this isn’t our year,’” Holmberg said. “But to the player’s credit, that wasn’t the attitude they took and they just gritted their teeth.”
The team’s unrelenting drive made the loss to Laurier just one of two in the new year, as the Gaels went on to win 10 of their 12 remaining regular-season games and handily marched into the playoffs.
They beat Windsor in the first round, after a double-overtime thriller.
In the semi-finals, they faced a true challenge against Laurier, the eight-time consecutive OUA champions, a team the Gaels were winless against in the playoffs. Undaunted, they ploughed through another two double-overtime victories each with a score of 2-1, to take the series and head to the OUA finals against the Guelph Gryphons.
The matchup against the Gryphons was one many of the Queen’s players had been craving. The previous year, Queen’s was ranked second entering the OUA playoffs, but their hopes were dashed after losing to the Gryphons in the first round.
It was something that needed to be avenged. 
“There was a lot of emotion in the room following that loss,” Holmberg said. “And there were a few fourth-year players who had originally thought they were probably going to graduate, but I think the emotion of that loss inspired a small group of them to come back.” 
Enter Tuesday, March 2, 2011: the night hockey history would be made.
The game was low-scoring, and with just five seconds left in the third period, the Gryphons led 1-0, and it looked as though history might be repeating itself against the Gaels. But then the magic started. 
After the Gryphons missed the Gaels’ empty net by inches, Queen’s regained possession and with just three seconds left in regulation, Becky Conroy snuck one past Guelph’s goalie. While overtime had become a regularity for the Gaels’ post-season, they had no idea at the time that they’d be playing the equivalent of nearly two more games that night. 
The game was gruelling, and although it felt like it may never end, the Gaels were well aware that eventually it would, and at the drop of the hat.
McHaffie recalled how the team had to calculate when to exert effort and when to rest—in between periods the team laid with their backs on the dressing room floor with their feet up against the wall to maintain circulation. Team parents who had made the trip to Guelph made runs to the grocery store for sandwiches and Gatorade.
At one point in the fifth overtime, the Gaels thought it was finally over. Morgan McHaffie’s twin sister Brittany had netted a clean goal, but the referee had lost sight of the puck and blown the play dead.
Despite the exhaustion and frustration, Holmberg recalled the high spirits his team was able to maintain.
“I came into the dressing room between the seventh and eighth period […] and all the girls are lying on their backs with their feet along the benches to get their circulation going again, and so all their heads are therefore in the middle of the room,” Holmberg said.
“And they’re singing and they’re singing. And so I walked in, looked at this for a couple seconds and tapped my assistant coach on the shoulder to go outside. There was just nothing we could do to make this better right now. The positivity and how much fun they were having in that moment—at that point as a coach you just get the hell out of the way, because they’re in that zone.”
A little while later it was all over, and the Gaels got back to Kingston at 5:30 a.m. with a heck of a story to tell.
With files from Angus Merry.

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