Delay worth the wait for Vermont

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- It was an excruciatingly long 12-minute wait.

For the coaches. For the players. And for anybody watching in the building or on TV.

When it started the clock on the wall said 10:30 p.m ET. The scoreboard clock said 4:01 left in period No. 5. Vermont and Air Force were tied at 2-2 in the second overtime, and the winner of the NCAA Hockey East Regional final would advance to the Frozen Four in Washington, D.C.

At the time, everyone in the Arena at Harbor Yard was waiting for play to resume so the game winner could -- and would, eventually -- find the back of the net.

The only problem was that it had already been scored. Only no one really knew that for sure. At least not at that time.

As the crowd grew increasingly impatient with each passing minute and the players tried to stay loose, referees Todd Anderson and Marco Hunt huddled in the official scorer's booth and watched one play over and over again.

And finally, at 10:42 p.m., Hunt emerged from the booth, skated a few strides and pointed to the center dot to signal a goal.

The Vermont players and bench erupted in joy, the scoreboard changed to 3-2 and the Catamounts began to celebrate at their end of the ice.

Wait. What? You can't end four hours of playoff college hockey with a video review of a play that almost no one saw take place in real time.

Apparently you can.

As it turned out, defenseman Dan Lawson had actually scored the game-winning goal with 5:50 left on the clock. It was a blast from the left point that not only went to the net, but also went past Air Force goalie Andrew Volkening and then through the net.

After it deflected off the boards behind the net play continued for another 1:49 until there was a stoppage, and then the referees began their exhausting look at the videotape.

"The puck was shot and I observed the net move," Hunt said in a statement. "At the first stoppage of play, after confirming with the rest of the on-ice crew, we determined a review was necessary. Video confirmed the puck entered the net inside the post and under the crossbar."

And with it the Catamounts (22-11-5) head to their second Frozen Four in school history in search of their first national title. Vermont will play the winner of Sunday's Northeast Regional final between No. 1 Boston University and No. 3 New Hampshire on April 9 at the Verizon Center.

But all anybody could talk about after the game was the play. And the delay.

"I saw Danny take the shot as a left defenseman and I saw the back of the net move on the other side," Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. "And the puck kind of took a weird bounce after that. It was a bullet of a shot. It just didn't make sense how it came out of the net.

"It was a long time waiting, just hoping they would go to review. And thankfully that's the system in place. We're very fortunate to have that bounce go our way."

The game winner was Lawson's second goal of the game. His first one gave UVM a 2-1 lead midway through the third period. And for his efforts, he was named the Most Outstanding Player of the East Regional. Joining him on the all-tournament team were Catamount forward Viktor Stalberg and Air Force players Jacques Lamoureux, Sean Bertsch, Greg Flynn and Volkening.

In the other dressing room, the mood was suitably subdued. But the Falcons and their coach left the arena with a sense that the officials got it right.

"They took a tremendous amount of time looking at that play, and they took the time that they did because they wanted to get it right," Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that they made the right call -- because if it wasn't conclusive, I can't imagine that they would have allowed the goal stand.

"The longer it went, I started to get a good feeling because it must have been conclusive for them to make the call that they made, but it must have not been blatantly conclusive or it wouldn't have taken 12 minutes to figure it out. At first I had a sick feeling, but the longer it went, I'm going, 'Maybe it didn't go in or it's not conclusive.'"

It turned out to be conclusive and a very tough way to end a college hockey season. Air Force was one play, one goal away from a magical ride to the Frozen Four for a school and a conference (Atlantic Hockey) that aren't supposed to dream those kind of dreams.

The Falcons finished the year 28-11-2 but left Connecticut with their first NCAA win (2-0 over No. 1 Michigan on Friday) and with a realistic sense of perspective -- which shouldn't be a surprise coming from a military academy.

"There's nothing that anybody can do or say that's going to make you feel better regardless of how you lose that game," Serratore said. "I don't want to equate it to a death in the family, but for an athlete and a competitor, when you lose a big game like that, there's nothing that anyone can say. It's unfortunate that Cinderella isn't going to be taking her show to Washington, D.C., but that's life.

"There's nothing that simulates battle better than athletic competition -- and keep in mind that we're an underdog in most of our games. But the team that these guys are going to be playing on a year from now, we're never the underdog. So this is where they learn how to deal with adversity and our guys will deal with it just fine, and our country is in good hands with these guys moving forward."

And somehow that dose of reality made a long wait and an unsatisfying end to a college hockey game seem truly trivial.

David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at espncaa@gmail.com