Northview’s David Marsh, left, and Brendan Pierson were two of the Wildcats that played in Saturday’s record-making contest.
Northview's riveting and marathon state championship hockey game on Saturday has generated national headlines and debate.
The Wildcats' unprecedented split state title with Cleveland St. Ignatius sparked conversations on major TV networks, national newspapers, and generated buzz on popular Web sites.
Controversy surrounded the decision to declare co-champions after Northview and St. Ignatius battled for seven overtimes. The teams endured 101 minutes of hockey with some players succumbing to overwhelming fatigue. At that point Ohio High School Athletic Association commissioner Dan Ross made the extraordinary move to halt the game and declare a split title.
The unranked Wildcats (18-13-1) tied No. 1-ranked Cleveland St. Ignatius 1-1 in the historic game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
Ross said the decision, which received boos when it was announced over the public address system, was based on player safety. Officials from the OHSAA and both schools agreed to the decision. No set plan was in place to deal with the situation and shootouts are not allowed in prep hockey.
Some national commentators said the high school players were treated with kid gloves. Some contend that not every player should receive a ribbon just for participation and a winner should have been decided. Still others praised the players and commended the decision.
Northview coach Mike Jones said his phone was “very active” on Sunday. One interview was for the New York Times.
“It's social media,” Jones said. “News travels fast and everyone has an opinion. It was still the right decision.”
The game was mentioned on an NHL broadcast on NBC, on the show Hockey Night in Canada on CBC, and on ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Jones said the biggest positive of the national spotlight was that it highlighted the play of senior goaltender David Marsh.
“If anything good comes out of this national debate is that his name is with it in a positive light,” Jones said. “He's the real deal.”
The only thing settled through the seventh overtime was that Marsh had the game of his life. Marsh stood up to a constant shooting gallery, stopping a state-tournament record 77 shots.
“I wish there was only one team that got this,” Marsh said. “But at the end of the day we're state champions. It's a great feeling.”
Marsh made 36 saves in the three periods of regulation, which last 15 minutes each. He finished with 41 stops in the seven overtimes, which each lasted eight minutes for a total 56 extra minutes.
“That very well could have been his last game. But he's the real deal,” said Jones, who is uncertain what Marsh's future holds. “He'll be getting looks.”
Northview took a 1-0 lead 6:42 into the game on senior Jake Koback's goal. St. Ignatius tied it with 7:45 left in regulation.
Northview athletic director Chris Irwin appeared on ESPN on Sunday.
Irwin, who was part of the decision, said it wasn't made lightly.
“At the end of the day, we're trying to do what's best for kids,” Irwin said. “They wanted to leave everything they had on the ice. But what's important is that they all skated off the ice.”
Marsh admitted that “a lot of swear words” flew in the locker room after the players were informed on the decision.
“It stinks,” Marsh said in the locker room shortly after the game was halted. “But we accomplished something that no team has done before.”
St. Ignatius coach Patrick O'Rourke said Marsh had one of the all-time great state championship performances. O'Rourke added that the group making the decision knew there would be fallout.
“I think the adults knew they would get booed,” he said. “The boys had extended themselves pretty darn far. There are way worse things in life. It's a victory for both programs. There is zero taint to this. The game was historical.”
O'Rourke said a forfeit was never discussed and he added he hadn't eaten since 6 that morning.
“One coach gave a trainer $50 to go get Gatorade from the concession stands,” he said. “There were legitimate concerns. The kids were totally dehydrated but still hitting hard and it was getting a little dicey.”
Jones refuted the perception that only St. Ignatius wanted to keep playing because they were on the ice when the decision was made.
“That's the biggest joke and insult,” Jones said. “I stopped my kids as they were walking to the tunnel. I told them to get back in the room. Pat tried to do the same thing. When I told them it was not pretty. They were mad at me. Then they didn't want to go out unless we were going to keep playing.”
Northview senior Caleb Rau said he did not feel the fatigue on the ice because of adrenaline but felt it during intermissions.
“We wanted to go until someone was declared a champion,” Rau said. “Everyone wanted to go finish that game. We wanted to go until someone was declared a champion.”
Cody Estrel, the team captain who assisted on Northview's only goal, said fluids were only part of the motivating factor as the game wore on.
“It's all mental. Gatorade and water were getting us through but we had drive too,” Estrel said after the game. “Right now we're not happy. But if this is what we get, it's something to be proud of.”
O'Rourke said some protocol will likely emerge from the controversy. He said the solution should not include a shootout.
“I would have never do a shootout,” he said. “I would have played a thousand overtimes. I hate shootouts. It's a team sport.”
Jones said there was some talk in his locker room about the possibility of halting the game and resuming on Sunday morning. But he said the logistics would have been very difficult.
Jones said the commentators would have had a different take if the outcome had been tragic.
“If someone was seriously injured, they would say we were crazy to keep playing,” he said. “They would say to fire everyone of us.”
Jones said tweaks will be made to prevent such lengthy games. He said teams could go to a 4-on-4 situation after the third overtime and then 3-on-3 after that.
“I promise it wouldn't go very far,” he said.
Jones said the discussion that led to the decision lasted less than five minutes.
“Everyone wants to talk about finishing the game or coming up with different solutions,” Jones said. “All 40 players and the coaches would have loved a different outcome. But it could not be done. Not at the expense of the heath and safety of the players.”