Easter Sunday Special: A Historical Anniversary

Happy Easter (and Passover) to all!

Anyone remember where they were on April 24, 2008? That date may not have much significance to some people, but to a handful of River Rat and Phantom fans, it does. Today marks the 3 year anniversary of the longest game in American Hockey League history, Game 5 of the 2008 East Division Semifinals between the Rats and Phantoms. And I was there…and I sat through the entire game from start to finish.

I was in my usual seat in Section 115 with the crew, and it started out like any other game. It was a goaltending duel between Goaltender of the Year Michael Leighton for the Rats (ironically now he’s a Flyer) and the Phantoms’ Scott Munroe. The Rats were first on the board in the 2nd courtesy of late season pickup Kiel McLeod (overnight the Rats snagged him from Victoria of the ECHL…really tall, really tattooed is what I remember about him), then Jared Ross scored shorthanded to tie it at 1. Late in the period on a power play McLeod scored again to give Albany a 2-1 lead entering the 3rd. Less than 5 minutes left in the 3rd period, Ross scored his second to tie it up at 2. And that’s when the fun began.

Shots going into the first overtime were 38-32 Phantoms. Keep this stat in mind as the game (and this story) goes on. Other than an interference penalty by Rat Joe Jensen, nothing doing. Philly outshot the hosts 20-11, bringing totals to 58-43. No penalties, no nothing in the second overtime, shots were 17-6 Phantoms, totals 75-49. By this point, I’m dragging. Problem is all the refreshment stands in the arena had long since closed (during the third period as is standard), so I was jokingly asking front office staff (well mainly my friend Erin who worked for them at the time) to go on a Starbucks run for all of us (there’s one up the street), sadly they were closed too. Third overtime the Phantoms get called for a bench minor early on, Rats couldn’t capitalize on the power play, and despite three more power play chances (2 for Albany, 1 for Philly), nothing doing on either side. Shots from this period were 12-6 Philly, total 87-55. At this point a full game of shutout hockey for Leighton and Munroe has been played, and I remember running into Tim Conboy (who was serving a lengthy suspension from a Game 1 brawl) and telling him he should go to the AHL and have a game taken off his suspension. And telling Noah Babin (another Rat scratch) to get me some coffee. The fourth overtime begins…by this point, not many of us are left (the attendance on this night was just barely over 1800), probably just the diehards who can’t leave just yet. No penalties, nothing across again from either side…shots for that period were 12-11 Philly, bringing the astounding totals to 99-66. 97 saves for Leighton, 64 for Munroe. At this point, I still couldn’t will myself to walk out the arena doors, despite the fact that it was after midnight and I had to be up early for work. I was a witness to history, couldn’t leave just yet…had to see how this would end.

Scoreboard near the end of OT #4. Photo by me

Overtime #5 begins…and 1:58 into the period, Philly takes shot #100 on Leighton, which he stops.

Scoreboard showing the shot reset. Photo by me

Exactly one minute later, Ryan Potulny of the Phantoms finally breaks through and gets shot #101 past Leighton. The Phantoms finally win it 3-2 in the 5th overtime, capping the longest game in AHL history. You have to feel for Leighton with this one…the game of his life (or any goalie’s life, for that matter), 98 saves and only a loss to show for it.

Scoreboard at the end of the game. Photo by me

Final shots for the game were 101-67 Philly. Three stars of that game were: 3. Jared Ross; 2. Michael Leighton; 1. Ryan Potulny. Give Munroe credit as well he had 65 saves of his own. The official end of game time? 12:39 AM. It took 5 hours and 38 minutes to determine a winner. I didn’t get home till just before 1 AM…and somehow I still went to work the next morning on 4 hours of sleep. My coworkers were coming over to visit me at my desk when they saw on the news and asked if I was there. Oh yes, I sat through it all.

After that game, the series shifted back to Philadelphia on April 26th for Game 6, and another goaltending duel goes into overtime. But the Rats came out on top 1-0 as Kirk Macdonald scored the game winner in the first OT to force a Game 7 on April 29th. Munroe shut the door on Leighton and the Rats’ season with a 2-0 shutout of his own. That game marked the last time anyone saw Leighton in a River Rats uniform. He went on to become Cam Ward’s backup in Carolina the following season, then was put on waivers during the 09-10 season after Manny Legace took over the backup role. He spent two days on Albany’s roster (actually was in the building for a home game one of those nights), then was picked up by the Flyers on re-entry waivers and became the story of Philly’s Stanley Cup playoff run last season. Both franchises saw their share of news as well: after the 08-09 season, the Phantoms relocated to a “temporary” home in Glens Falls when the Spectrum was torn down, now they are the upstate rival Adirondack Phantoms. The River Rats went through a tumultous 08-09 season, the tip of the iceberg being the bus crash on the Massachusetts Turnpike in February 2009, then following the 09-10 season moved to North Carolina to become the Charlotte Checkers. Right after that the Devils moved in from Lowell, bringing us back to the present time.

I was reminded of this date last night after the hero of this game, Ryan Potulny, worked his OT magic for his current team, the Binghamton Senators. Down 3-1 in their first round series to Manchester, the B-Sens won 3 straight overtime games to take the 4-3 series win, the winning goal in Game 7 by Mr. Potulny. And with that came the inspiration to look back and write about my side of the story.

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