LOVELAND — Seventy-six minutes and 36 seconds into the game, the night ended. After six overtimes. But before the game had to be suspended.
"There's no loser here. Of course, we won the game, but I'm so proud of these young men," said Cherry Creek coach Jeff Mielnicki. "They played so hard. We had guys completely dehydrated, drinking whatever they could, but we somehow found a way."
It is the longest game in hockey game in the 39-year history of the sport in the state, beating a four-overtime affair between Resurrection Christian and Mountain Vista a few years ago. It was so long, in fact, that CHSAA officials were discussing options of how to suspend it due to player safety concerns.
At the time the winner was scored, CHSAA assistant commissioner Bud Ozzello and the athletic directors from both schools were on their way to an impromptu meeting in the hallways outside the locker rooms. It is likely that, had the game continued much further, it would have been suspended and made to complete at a local rink on Friday ahead of Saturday's championship.
"We were going to discuss it with the athletic directors," said Ozzello, who oversees hockey.
"These are student-athletes," said Dakota Ridge coach Alex Hines. "They all played as hard as they could. Both sides were dragging. The puck was bouncing tonight. It took a toll on our boys. It was probably a dangerous situation if it kept going that way.
"You saw that, that was a grind," Hines added later. "We basically played — that was two games, right?"
It was close. A regulation game is 51 minutes. The teams played five full five-minute overtimes, then 36 seconds of the sixth — making for 76:36 on the ice.
You want long? Mielnicki said he was involved in a game in Canada a few years ago where they would take players off the ice after overtime periods. They eventually got down to 1-on-1. "But it doesn't match anything like this," he said, shaking his head.
"That's the longest game I've ever been a part of," Hines said.
In between the fifth and sixth overtimes, Mielnicki said he told his guys that "it was going to be getting past my bedtime and I wouldn't mind seeing this things end."
"I think sometimes a team is going to play off of how the coaches feel," he continued. "I was just having a good time. I was enjoying this. There was no fear, there was no worry, there was none of that. It was more of, 'Let's go out, we can do this. Why not us?'"
It felt like the two teams could play forever. And maybe they would've. Ultimately, it was just a shame someone had to lose.
"They're never going to forget this opportunity to play in front of all of these fans," Hines said. "They're not going to leave here with their head hanging at all. ... The work ethic, the boys worked their butts off and I couldn't be prouder of them."