The first weekend of conference tournament action in college hockey provided a welcome reminder of one of the joys of springtime: Playoff hockey headed to overtime.
In fact, there were five overtimes in the second game of the Union-Yale series, the longest game in college hockey history. It's unlikely we'll see another game of that length this year, but from here on out, every contest will have a winner, regardless of how long it takes to decide the outcome.
The participants in last Saturday's marathon had a keen sense of what contributes to success in overtime playoff hockey.
"After the first couple of overtimes, there's nothing you can do but just start joking around, and try to have fun out there, because that's what the game is about," Union co-captain Scott Seney told the Schenectady Daily Gazette. "It's good to see in the locker room that the guys could still be loose and have fun.
"When you go into the third period and the first overtime, there's a lot of nervous energy. Everyone's excited, but you're still gripping the sticks tight. By the end, it was organized pond hockey, almost. Everyone was just having fun and not trying to make a mistake."
Yale goaltender Alec Richards turned aside 57 shots from Seney and his teammates, earning INCH Player of the Week honors.
"Without Alec Richards," Yale forward David Meckler told Research on Ice, "there's no way we would have won this game."
Meckler played a big role as well, scoring the game-winning goal while shorthanded early in the fifth overtime. His stick is already on its way to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Conditioning. Goaltending. Attention to detail. And a dose of puck luck.
"I don't think anyone believed it was over. It didn't hit me until Monday morning," Union head coach Nate Leaman told the Bangor Daily News. "We were on the power play, and it was a broken play. I think the puck deflected off one of the referees [to a Yale player]. It was one of those things. We felt we were going to win the game."
In short, it's the same equation that leads to success over the course of the regular season. That's why teams like Wisconsin, Miami and Minnesota -- the elite in college hockey almost all year -- are best suited for overtime success.
Unlike a shootout -- which, the NHL has proven, would be a great addition to regular-season college hockey games -- overtimes usually give a fairly accurate representation of who is the better team. A bounce here or there can lead to an upset -- indeed, Yale was the 10th seed in the ECACHL tournament to Union's seventh -- but the favorites have earned that status over the course of the season. That doesn't change in extra time.
They might not last five overtimes, but you can expect at least a few of those top teams to face overtime situations in the coming weeks.
While the regular-season champions are, deservedly, the favorites in each conference tournament, a number of teams are poised for upsets. We'll pick one from each league:
Atlantic Hockey: Sacred Heart is 8-2-1 in its last 11 and could become the fourth Atlantic Hockey team in as many years to represent the league in the NCAAs.
Central Collegiate Hockey Association: There's very little in their second-half play to suggest it, but it still wouldn't be a surprise for Michigan's talent to turn it on and take home the Mason Cup.
College Hockey America: Bemidji State swept Alabama-Huntsville last weekend, securing the important second seed in the CHA. The Beavers will make a second straight NCAA appearance if they win two games this weekend.
ECAC Hockey League: Arguably the league's best forward (T.J. Trevelyan) and defenseman (Mike Madill) make St. Lawrence a dangerous fifth seed.
Hockey East: The only team to beat BU or Maine in the last six weeks was New Hampshire, which heads into the tournament on a winning note.
Western Collegiate Hockey Association: There are reasons Wisconsin was the nation's best team for the first three and a half months. Last weekend's sweep of St. Cloud State showed that the Badgers may have recaptured their magic.
Alex Foster, who led Bowling Green in scoring as a sophomore, has decided to leave school and sign a professional contract.
Foster had 11 goals and 40 assists (51 points) in 38 games as a sophomore for the Falcons, whose season ended last weekend with two losses at Nebraska-Omaha. Foster, the son of former NHLer Dwight Foster, will sign a two-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs that will include the maximum signing bonus allowed under the NHL collective bargaining agreement, approximately $170,000.
"When I came to BG, the situation I was put in allowed me to develop me into the player I am now," Foster said in a statement released by the school. "The coaching staff allowed me to play in all situations, five-on-five, penalty kill and power play. Bowling Green, the city and coaches, were awesome. I would not have changed a thing my last two years."
"Alex has been a tremendous player for us the last two years," said BGSU head coach Scott Paluch. "He is a major loss to our program, but it is great to see Alex continue his dream. We wish him nothing but the best."
Foster's departure leaves his classmate, Jonathan Matsumoto, as Bowling Green's top returning scorer, provided that he returns for his junior season.