Strangest. Game. Ever.
Jason Garrison doesn’t have a ton of post-season experience, just eight NHL playoff games under his belt. But back before the NHL was in the cards for the White Rock, BC, native, Garrison played in perhaps the strangest playoff game in all of hockey history, a game that took 48 hours to complete.
Back in 2004, while the current Canucks defenseman was a member of the British Columbia Hockey League’s Nanaimo Clippers, Garrison and his teammates embarked on a magical run to the Royal Bank Cup, the Canadian National Junior “A” Championship.
To get to the RBC, Garrison and the Clippers had to win the BCHL Championship, which they did by ousting Powell River, Chilliwack, Surrey and Salmon Arm. But it was that first round series that proved the toughest, and the strangest.
On March 13, 2004, the Clippers were battling the Powell River Kings in Game 7 of their first round series. The Clippers were losing 3-2 late in the game as Kings goaltender Alex Evan was standing on his head as the Clippers through everything on net. With less than five minutes to play, Clippers forward Blair Lefebvre evened the score at three and the two teams looked to be heading to a series deciding overtime.
Queue the strangeness.
“We had a weird league imposed rule that year and it was if the goalie freezes the puck well beyond his crease, a two minute delay of game penalty would be called,” said Bill Bestwick, who was the head coach of the Clippers from 2001 to 2011.
With 1:34 remaining in the game, Evan did just that. He froze the puck out of his crease and was called for a delay of game penalty.
“My position on the call with the ref was that since this infraction took place with less than two minutes remaining on the clock, it must be a penalty shot. Just like all other delay of game infractions committed by the goalie, like knocking the net off intentionally for example.”
Bestwick wasn’t sure if this was the right call, but he knew it was worth advocating it was, and the officials agreed.
Clippers star, Tyson Mulock, took the penalty shot, deked backhand and scored.
“We were celebrating a first round game seven series win and moving on,” said Bestwick, who also coached former Canucks Tanner Glass and Byron Bitz while they were members of the Clippers.
The Clippers went about their business the next day, preparing for a second round match-up. However, at 4:00 pm that afternoon, Bestwick received a call from the league office, telling him the penalty shot was the incorrect call and they were going to replay the last 1:34 of the game with the Clippers on a power-play instead of a penalty shot, which they believed was the correct call.
“Shocked is all I could say. Unbelievable. You have got to be kidding me. Two days after we win, a replay,” said Bestwick, who was named the BCHL’s Coastal Conference Coach of the Year after guiding the Victoria Grizzlies to a 33-13-0-10 record in his first season behind the bench in the Capital City.
Sure enough, the ruling stood and Powell River was on their way back to Nanaimo to replay the last 94 seconds of Game 7.
Frank Crane Arena was packed, television crews were on hand, and national newspapers were covering the spectacle. Bestwick said the place was electric and full of nervous tension.
The Clippers failed to score on the power-play and the game headed into overtime. Early in the extra frame, Muloch sprung Clippers captain, Michael Olson in on a breakaway; he went forehand to backhand and scored the game-winner. The Clippers had won Game 7, again.
Even nine years after the fact, Bestwick still doesn’t understand how they were forced to replay the last 94 seconds of the game, incorrect call or not.
“Sure, we felt the on ice call should stand,” said Bestwick. “If a mistake was made, you can't replay every mistake. It was just magnified because of game seven and when it took place.
“But really, how do you come back and replay a missed or mistaken call 48-hours later?”