Walled Lake Northern senior captain #18 Jack Paulson clears the puck in the 4th overtime on Monday, February 25, 2013 at the Novi Ice Arena. (Special to The Oakland Press/CHRIS WALL)
W.L. Northern's #13 Austin Sansom stick handles in front of the Novi goal in exciting 4-3 win over Novi in the fifth overtime on Monday, February 25, 2013. (Special to The Oakland Press/CHRIS WALL)
W.L. Northern goalie #1 Grant Luzynski with the huge save on the penalty shot by Novi's #15 Mark Baker in the second overtime in the Pre-Regional thriller on Monday, February 25, 2013. (Special to The Oakland Press/CHRIS WALL)
NOVI — Walled Lake Northern and Novi played a game to remember in a Michigan High School Athletic Association pre-regional game that went into five overtimes and was the longest in the history of both programs.
The marathon concluded when Walled Lake Northern junior forward Austin Sansom put in the game-winner with 24.2 seconds left to lift the Knights to a 4-3 win on Monday night at the Novi Ice Arena.
“Once we got into overtime, we were just enjoying the game,” Walled Lake Northern head coach Claude Tunison said. “It starts to play with you a bit too. You think ‘how long can I keep rolling two lines (out there).
“The boys kept battling because for all we knew this was it.”
On a delayed penalty call with under a minute to play, the Knights (6-7-1) began to push the pace with four-on-four hockey. Junior defensemen Daniel McCormick kept the puck in on a loose puck as the Wildcats tried to touch it to halt play. McCormick cycled the puck down low to senior Eric Woolf who fired a shot that went wide. Sansom was on the opposite side waiting for the rebound and put away the game winner.
“He’s just awesome,” Tunison said of Sansom. “He very talented and knows how to find the net.
Despite the Wildcats record 11-14-1, the Knights knew they had to battle, and build off the tremendous play of senior goaltender Grant Luzynski, who saved 55 shots and faced 31 shots and a penalty shot in the combined overtimes alone.
“He played a great, great game.” Tunison said. “From the penalty shot, from the stops in there late, to the ones the rung off the posts, he was focused. He was the difference in the game and our number one star tonight.”
Novi head coach Todd Krygier and his squad isn’t strangers to long overtime games. In the past two seasons the Wildcats had to use three overtimes to advance each season and knew it had to capitalize off the chances they were given.
“We gave up two one-goal leads,” Krygier said. “Which should never happen. But, our guys kept battling. We had a penalty shot, three breakaways, a cross bar and a four on three in overtime and didn’t bury any of those chances.
With just 1:55 into the third period Novi would take its first lead of the game on a beautiful backhand by sophomore Ryan Baxter on the short side of the net, as he put away a rebound for a 2-1 lead. The Knights would then tie the game back up with Rozek’s second goal of the game as he put back an offensive rebound to make it 2-2 with 8:20 to play in regulation.
Novi would regain the lead off a shot by sophomore forward Bryan Fegert, whose hard wrist shot from a top the left circle trickled under the arm of Luzynski and dribbled into the net to make it 3-2 Wildcats with 5:15 to play.
Three minutes later Walled Lake Northern would answer the call once again as Rozek give a quick pass to Sansom who fired home a one-timer to tie the game at 3-3 with 2:07 left in the third.
With one second remaining in a power play with 8:09 left in the second period, Novi received its first goal of the game. The Wildcats created pressure off scoring opportunities by seniors Mark Baker and Connor Kenrick. As the rebound caromed off Luzynski, fellow senior Carl Faraon put slammed the puck home to tie the game at 1-1.
With just 3:16 into the first period, Walled Lake Northern got on the board first off a redirected shot. While controlling the puck at the point and then walking to the slot freshman defensemen Ben Grudzien fired a shot on net. Senior forward Joe Rozek screened the shot as it bounced off the inside of his right skate for a 1-0 lead.
“It’s good for Northern, they played a fantastic game, and they deserve the credit that they earned,” said Krygier. “But I’m proud of my guys. We were extremely young this year.
“I’m real proud to have coached these guys. We didn’t have the success as we’ve had in past years, but they did what was asked of them.”
Novi’s longest game in program history before Monday’s game was against Sault Ste. Marie on March 8, 2001 and ended in a 4-3 loss in four overtimes.
Walled Lake Northern will live to fight another day and look to build off its win on Wednesday when it faces the winner of Walled Lake Central and Walled Lake Western.
Before that happens though, the Knights will skate on Tuesday and work out some of its kinks.
“We’ve struggled this year,” Tunison said. “But we’ve been gearing towards February. You can turn an not so great season, to a good season with a few wins. But we’ll get the kids on the ice tomorrow and work a few things out before Wednesday’s game.”