If you were among the 5,012 fans at Van Andel Arena that Thursday night, it might seem like only yesterday. But it’s been exactly 10 years since the Griffins played the longest game in franchise history and second-longest in the original IHL’s storied 56 seasons.
On May 3, 2001, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals – the last playoff series the Griffins would take part in as IHL members – Orlando’s Hugo Boisvert batted the puck past Mike Fountain at 11:12 of the third overtime to give the Solar Bears a 4-3 win over the Griffins.
Grand Rapids, winner of the IHL’s final regular season title, held leads of 2-1 after two periods and 3-2 early in the third, but Jerrod Skalde tied matters on a shorthanded goal with 15:58 remaining in regulation to force the epic six-period game.
An estimated 500 fans were still in attendance when Boisvert ended the marathon by connecting on the game’s 113th shot at 12:39 a.m., five hours and one minute after the opening faceoff.
Fountain deserved a much better fate, tying a franchise playoff record with 54 saves, including 22 after regulation. Not surprisingly, no Griffins goalie to this date has made more saves or faced more rubber (58 shots) in a home game, including during the regular season.
The game and the series had a treasure trove of quirks, ironies and trivia notables:
- Grand Rapids’ Todd White took a shot that rang off both the post and crossbar 4:40 into the third overtime. Referee Mark Hicks used a stoppage in play 13 seconds later to review the play – yes, the IHL had primitive video replay in its final years – before confirming his ruling that the puck did not cross the line.
- Pizza may not be the chosen fuel for champions, but the Griffins chowed down on an emergency supply of pies between the second and third overtimes in an effort to maintain their energy.
- Some Griffins, including Fountain, disputed the game-winning goal, arguing that the puck had slipped over the blue line and out of their defensive zone before Orlando defenseman Mike Weaver took the shot that led to Boisvert’s goal. “If the referee had made the right call, we would have played all night,” Fountain told the Grand Rapids Press.
- Boisvert’s goal was scored about one minute after P.A. announcer John Green told the crowd that the game was the second-longest in IHL history. “Talk about timing,” said Griffins forward David Oliver to the Press. “I wish he hadn’t told us.”
- Fountain and IHL MVP Norm Maracle, the top two goalies during the regular season, shut out each other’s teams for more than 67 minutes before the game-winner was scored.
- Boisvert attended Ohio State University, while all three Griffins goals were scored by former Michigan Wolverines: two by Oliver, now the GM of the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, and the other by David Roberts.
- The temperature in Grand Rapids reached 85 degrees, making it one of the warmest game days in franchise history.
- While the Griffins had home ice advantage, the series was played in an odd 1-2-2-1-1 format because of scheduling conflicts at Van Andel Arena. In fact, due to a performance of the opera Carmen, the teams would’ve been forced to wait eight days to play Game 7 in Grand Rapids if the Griffins had prolonged the series by winning Game 6 in Orlando.
- The series marked the last on-ice competition between Griffins co-owner Dan DeVos and his father, Orlando owner Rich DeVos. On the ice, Griffins defenseman Travis Richards squared off against his brother, Solar Bears blueliner Todd.
- The Solar Bears used the Orlando Magic’s team plane for their trips to Grand Rapids, even transporting the Griffins’ equipment after Game 1, while the Griffins flew commercial out of Detroit for Games 2 and 3 in Orlando. On their return trip, they flew into Chicago and bussed back to Grand Rapids. The Griffins eventually chartered their own plane for Game 6 back in Florida.
- After earning a split of Games 2 and 3 in Orlando, the Griffins returned home on May 9 to suffer a crushing 4-3 overtime loss that put them in a 3-1 series hole. They rebounded with a dominant 8-3 win in front of rookie netminder Mathieu Chouinard in Game 5 on May 10, keeping their season alive with their greatest offensive output ever in a home playoff game, before bowing out of the IHL with a whimper in a 2-0 Game 6 loss in the Sunshine State on May 12.
- The Solar Bears eventually won the final Turner Cup, marking the second of four straight seasons in which the team that eliminated the Griffins from the postseason continued on to win the championship.
- From the “if you can’t beat ’em, ink ’em” department, the Griffins subsequently signed Boisvert, who racked up 85 points (38-47–85) in 232 games during the team’s first three AHL campaigns (2001-04).
- Fountain, who went on to play a half dozen seasons overseas, eventually settled in West Michigan and in March 2011 was named the ice director at Walker Ice and Fitness.
- While final details weren’t officially announced until after the conclusion of the IHL playoffs, the AHL held a vote on May 10 – the day of Game 5 – to approve significant expansion. Grand Rapids, Chicago, Houston, Manitoba, Milwaukee and Utah were eventually welcomed into the AHL for the 2001-02 season, bringing the curtain down on the IHL.
Alumni news and notes:
- Snow jobs don’t bother Howard (Red Wings)
- Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard vows he won’t be frustrated by Sharks’ tactics (MLive)
- Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard’s heroics ‘not satisfying’ (Detroit Free Press)
Jimmy Howard’s stellar play almost leads Wings to victory (Detroit News)
Red Wings suffer unlucky deflection on Jimmy Howard’s big night (Detroit Free Press)
Valtteri Filppula’s Euro education (Detroit Free Press)
- Red Wings’ Valtteri Filppula hopes to continue strong postseason play against Sharks (MLive)
Video – NHL alumni goals: