Postseason hockey is one of the most exciting events sports has to offer. Many say that the ramp-up in intensity from regular season to playoffs is the greater in hockey than in any other sport. This is especially true in college hockey, one of the few NCAA postseason tournaments that turns a profit due to its rabid following and popularity. One part of what makes postseason hockey so thrilling is the sudden-death overtime, which is almost undoubtedly the most exciting overtime format in sports. Watching two teams battle it out, with their season on the line, in a situation where just one goal will send one team packing and the other to the next round or to a title is breathtakingly exciting. That’s why, coming in at #5 on our top NCAA hockey moments countdown is one of the most thrilling Frozen Four games to ever occur, and, to this point, the longest. At 100 minutes and 28 seconds of game time, the 1995 semifinal between Maine and Michigan took regulation plus three overtime periods to decide, making for an instant classic between the Black Bears and Wolverines.
The ‘94-95 Michigan hockey team was a powerhouse team, winning 30 games and throttling their opponents by large margins. Throughout the course of the season, the Wolverines averaged 5.6 goals per game and allowed just 2.8. Defensively, it was national Rookie of the Year and freshman Marty Turco leading the way between the pipes. Turco won 27 games his freshman year, posting a 2.76 Goals-Against-Average along the way. His stellar performance in net was more than enough of a cushion for a powerful Michigan offense led by 38 goals from winger Mike Knuble and 76 points by center Brendan Morrison. Michigan’s season was marked by some dominant performances, particularly in rivalry games. The Wolverines played Notre Dame three times, winning twice and posting 20 goals in those two games. Including the postseason, Michigan was able to play Ohio State five times, and they stomped all over the Buckeyes, sweeping those five contests by a combined score of 38-6. They also put up a season-high 13 goals in a shutout victory over Michigan Tech. The slip-ups were few and far between, and although they lost in the semifinals of the CCHA tournament, the Wolverines were still granted the #1 overall seed in the tournament.
Maine was one season removed from their national championship season – featured in our #6 moment on this countdown -, but they were also coming off a rebuilding season that saw them go just 3-20-1 in Hockey East play. However, under legendary head coach Shawn Walsh, the Black Bears didn’t stay down for long, and they posted another stellar campaign in the ‘94-95 season. They were led largely by an elite defense, powered by All-Americans Chris Imes – a holdover from the ‘93 championship team – and goaltender Blair Allison. Allison led the nation with a 2.68 GAA, and Imes was named the Hockey East Player of the Year. Offensively, Maine saw three centers exceed 20 goals, with Brad Purdie, Dan Shermerhorn, and Tim Lovell all doing the deed for the Black Bears. Defenseman Jeff Tory led the team with 55 points. Maine got off to a very strong start, going 15-0-5 in their first twenty contests. They would only lose four times in the regular season, and, much like the Wolverines, the Black Bears also experienced success against their rivals, going 2-0-2 versus Boston University, taking three of four from New Hampshire, and posting a 2-0-1 mark against Boston College. Maine’s conference tournament run was cut short by Providence in the Hockey East Semifinals, and Maine got a 2-seed in Michigan’s region, setting the two teams up for their Frozen Four clash, after both teams won their quarterfinal match-ups.
Michigan looked like the top seed in the early stages of the game, dominating the flow of play and beating Allison twice in the opening five minutes for an early advantage. Kevin Hilton and Matt Herr scored for the Wolverines. Maine crawled their way back into the game, and after finally getting their legs under them, the Black Bears got a goal from Tory to halve their deficit at the first intermission.
Just 1:06 into the second period, Maine made it a brand new hockey game, as Purdie beat Turco to tie the score at two goals apiece. The two defenses settled in from there, with both goalies coming up huge for their teams. Turco ended up finishing the night with 52 saves, while Allison was just as impressive with 47. The rest of the second period went scoreless, as did the majority of the third. Both teams struck in lightning-quick fashion, as Dan Shermerhorn gave the Black Bears their first lead on a power-play tally with 5:58 to play, but Knuble tied it for Michigan, just 49 seconds later.
The game went into overtime, where the defenses continued to dominate.
Michigan had the better of the chances in the first overtime, none greater than Morrison received a cross-ice pass but saw his bid for the open right side of the goal ring off the post. That was just 3:48 into overtime, but the fate of this game was not to end so quickly. The teams battled on, but neither squad was able to put the game away after twenty minutes of extra hockey. Although the teams pushed back and forth, the Black Bears had the best chance of the second overtime, as Jamie Thompson broke in alone on Turco, but the freshman stonewalled the Maine forward, smothering any potential rebound with 4:40 to go. Neither squad was able to seriously challenge the opposing netminder for the remainder, and the game rolled into the third overtime.
However, it would not be another 20 minutes of scoreless hockey; rather, only 28 seconds had elapsed when Maine slipped the winner past Turco. Earning a faceoff victory in the offensive zone, Shermerhorn flipped the puck backwards and crashed the net. Reg Cardinal collected the puck and sizzled a pass towards Shermhorn, who shoveled it past Turco on his backhand to send Maine to the national championship, ending one of the greatest college hockey games ever. It went down as the longest game in NCAA Tournament history, and the second longest game in Division I history.
The thrilling win was the peak of Maine’s season, as they had absolutely nothing left in the tank to face Boston University two days later in the national championship. They lost 6-2 to the Terriers, unable to close the book on a second title in three years. Both Maine and Michigan would win titles in the near future, however, as the Wolverines, whose triple-overtime loss cost them their first championship-game berth in 18 years, would rally to win it all the next year. The Wolverines handled Boston University, 4-0, in the semifinals, before escaping Colorado College in a mere single-overtime victory to take the title. Michigan won again in 1998 for their second title in three years. Maine had a two-season postseason ban due to NCAA sanctions regarding ineligible players. In ‘98, Maine almost stole an automatic bid, but they came up one goal short in the Hockey East final, missing the NCAA Tournament. They returned with an upset run in 1999, winning two overtime contests in the Frozen Four against Boston College and New Hampshire to win their second, and as of now, latest championship. Maine and Michigan have met twice in the NCAA Tournament since their record-holding game in ‘95, splitting the contests in 2000 and 2003.