How Connecticut Girls Ice Hockey Got Two Winners And Many Losers
What's worse than losing the state title game?
Not having any outcome at all.
That's what happened Saturday afternoon at Terry Connors Rink in Stamford, Connecticut, site of the girls hockey state title game between Simsbury and East Catholic/Glastonbury/South Windsor, known as ETB.
The two Division 1 teams were declared co-state champs after playing just two overtimes. The game ended in a 2-2 tie.
According to some in attendance, after the game was called, the captains for each team were announced, a quick picture with both teams was taken and the two squads were ushered off the ice to make way for the start of a boys' FCIAC conference championship game between Darien and Greenwich.
Some said they believed the girls were cleared off the ice to make room for the boys, while others said arena officials were simply following protocol.
Simsbury coach Paul Melanson said his assistant had heard minutes before the second OT ended that the game would be called if it ended in a tie. This news surprised Melanson, as it was breaking the protocol outlined before the start of the playoffs.
"We went into these playoffs assuming it would be 5-on-5 until a winner was decided because that's what we had been told in an email before the start of the playoffs," Melanson said.
The email was sent to all girls ice hockey head coaches before the tournament started.
Rink manager Ken Smith said he thought the game would end with co-champions after one overtime.
"The game got started at 1 p.m., as scheduled," Smith said. "We actually got through a second overtime, and I think the game was supposed to be called co-champions after one overtime, so the way I see it, those people got their money's worth. And the building was filling with fans for the boys game, so it was a great environment and must have been exciting for those girls."
New Canaan athletic director Jay Egan, who is involved with the FCIAC but was not integral to Saturday's decision, said he assumes the arena officials were following "best practices" for Connecticut state championship events. Because girls ice hockey is not sanctioned by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference -- too few teams participate -- no specific championship protocol exists.
But Egan said arena officials likely made the decision to declare co-champs because it's in keeping with the championship protocol for other -- meaning sanctioned -- sports.
According to players for both teams as well as former Simsbury assistant coach Dave Eustis, there is no strict protocol for the girls ice hockey state championship.
"When I was coaching three years ago, in the state quarterfinals, we played five overtimes before a winner was decided," Eustis said. "To be clear: There is no set protocol that this game had to end without a winner."
In fact, both teams anticipated the game would continue.
"We played the first two OT periods, and when we got to the end of the second, I was expecting another overtime," Simsbury co-captain Sutton Wunderle said. "I figured we would just keep playing until there was a winner. So no one was expecting it when they called us out to the blue line and said we were done, that we were co-champs."
At the end of the radio broadcast of the final two minutes of the game, even the broadcasters seem confused when it was declared a tie.
As she and her fellow seniors posed for a picture on the ice, Wunderle said, the Zamboni was already in motion, cleaning the ice for the boys' game.
"I can't imagine a boys championship game ending with co-champs," Wunderle said. "If it happened the other way around, if we were the game after, I have a hard time believing the same thing would have happened."
Eustis was in attendance Saturday and said there's no doubt in his mind officials ended the girls state title game early to make sure the boys game started on time.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," Eustis said. "The teams were upset -- they didn't even have enough medals to give to all the girls. And the fans were stunned."
Cori Nevers, whose daughters, Stephanie and Cassie, play for ETB, said the whole afternoon was chaos.
"Honestly, as a parent, I was like, 'What's going on?' " Nevers said. "I thought maybe they were lining up for a shootout. So it seemed like maybe there was some confusion. So then Simsbury lined up. Then the arena got quieter. The announcer said, 'We're announcing the co-championship.'
"It was this feeling of deflation, like, 'What are you talking about? How can there not be a winner?' It's a state championship. It's not like it's a regulation game. Somebody wins; somebody loses. That's life."