Idaho Steelheads win longest game in ECHL history, clinch series

bmurphy@idahostatesman.comApril 29, 2014 

Riley Ralph could barely keep her eyes open. The 5-year-old wanted to be carried by her dad and placed in a bed.

No one could blame her.

The Idaho Steelheads, coached by Riley’s dad, felt much the same way after winning the longest game in ECHL history, one that stretched into early Tuesday morning.

David deKastrozza’s goal with 2 minutes, 42 seconds remaining in the fourth overtime lifted the Steelheads to a 3-2 victory against Colorado in Game 6 of their ECHL Kelly Cup Western Conference quarterfinal series at CenturyLink Arena in Boise.

Fourth-seeded Idaho clinched the series 4-2 and advanced to meet top-seeded Alaska in the conference semifinals. Game 1 is Thursday in Anchorage. Idaho hosts Game 3 on Monday, Game 4 on May 7 and Game 5, if necessary, May 8.

“(Colorado) gave us everything we could handle,” Idaho coach Brad Ralph said. “What a testament to both teams. Everyone fought hard. I don’t think you saw one player take a shift off. Everyone was playing for each other. We were fortunate to be on the winning side of that.”

Goalie Josh Robinson played a large role in that fortune. Robinson tied an ECHL record with 83 saves in the game — not that he remembered any of them.

“It’s completely a blur,” an exhausted Robinson said after the game. “Just focus on the puck. I wasn’t thinking at all. It’s the only way to do it. You can’t let yourself get in your head.”

Colorado, playing for its playoff life, was the early aggressor. The Eagles took a 2-0 lead with two second-period goals. The first came from Alex Hudson, who beat a stretching Robinson to the puck and deftly put it in the net behind the Idaho goalie 2:29 into the second.

Colorado’s second goal came courtesy of a deflected shot in front of Robinson’s net. A shot from Kevin Young hit Luke Fulghum’s skate to make it 2-0.

Game 7, scheduled for Tuesday night in Boise, was a real possibility.

“We definitely had a stern talking to before the third period,” Robinson said.

Ralph said he reminded his team of the momentum shifts possible in playoff hockey.

“We needed to make a push. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s playoff hockey. We’re watching it on TV. Anything can happen,” he said. “As long as there’s time on the clock, anything can happen. We proved that again.”

The Steelheads wasted little time. After two lackluster periods, Idaho tied the game less than three minutes into the third.

Gaelan Patterson cleaned up a mess in front of the net started by Jason Bast’s breakaway just 2:06 into the third. Sixteen seconds later, Justin Mercier scored his first goal of the series, beating Colorado goalie Marc Cheverie with a wrist shot.

From there, the goalies took over, thwarting offensive chances time and again.

The Steelheads had a chance to win the game five minutes into the first overtime, but Luke Judson’s rebound attempt was blocked by Cheverie and defenseman Mark Nemec, who both lunged across the goalline to keep the puck out.

A minute later, it was Robinson’s turn. He stuffed Kyle Kraemer on a breakaway and then turned away several more Eagles’ shots during a flurry of action in the Idaho zone.

“We had numerous chances with wide open nets and didn’t score. Numerous chances,” Colorado coach Chris Stewart said.

Colorado out-shot Idaho 19-6 in the first overtime and 60-33 through the first four periods.

The Steelheads out-shot Colorado over the final three periods. Idaho’s best chance in the second overtime came on a shot from defenseman Charlie Dodero, which hit the post.

“We just said, ‘Keep going.’ We were getting stronger and we could feel them fading. We knew it was only a matter of time that we’d eventually score,” Robinson said.

Ralph said the mood in the locker room during the intermissions was extremely light. He said he focused on making smart line changes, hoping to catch Colorado in a moment of weakness.

“Both teams did a great job managing their shifts. I think the biggest thing is the guys are playing for each other. No one wants to be the guy that makes that mistake. It’s pretty cool to see their attitudes and what they were saying to each other,” Ralph said.

In the third and fourth overtimes, Idaho forwards William Rapuzzi and deKastrozza appeared to have a bit more burst left in their legs than the other players. Rapuzzi had five shots in the final two periods. de Kastrozza had one, the decisive one.

“Ten seconds of going all out and then get off the ice,” deKastrozza said. “I just tried to empty the tank. You could tell they were tired, too.”

The game-winner came from a strong effort from Rob Linsmayer, who carried the puck behind the Colorado net. He found Patterson, who passed it to deKastrozza, who found himself staring at an empty net. Cheverie was on the other side of the net.

deKastrozza didn’t get much on the puck, but it was enough to end the longest game in league history at 137 minutes, 18 seconds (or 5 hours, 34 minutes of real time).

“My leg was cramping at that point. I was just like, ‘Don’t miss.’ It was pretty close to missing,” deKastrozza said. “It was definitely nice to be a part of history and be a part of the good side of it.”

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