The sweater was peeled off after each overtime period, replaced by the dried-out one from the period before. Alex Lyon would waddle into the Phantoms dressing room, plop on the bench in front of his locker, and the trainers would go to work on him as if he were a stock car in a pit stop.
One overtime. Two overtimes. Three overtimes. A fourth. A fifth? Peel it off. Get another one. “They kept drying ’em out, drying ’em out, drying ’em out,’’ said the goaltender. “The one I was wearing was pretty yellow by the end of the game.’’
The Charlotte Checkers, desperate not to lose for the second consecutive night and fall behind three games to one in their American Hockey League playoff series with Lehigh Valley, poured rubber at the Phantoms’ 25-year-old goaltender as he poured sweat stopping them. Ninety five shots in all, 53 in those four-plus overtimes.
Just one got past him.
When the game began at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in Charlotte, the temperature outside hovered near 80. The humidity had actually risen from 43 to 57, creating a perfect storm for those in charge of the arena’s comfort level and playing surface.
Six hours and six minutes later, when Alex Krushelnyski’s one-timer finally ended the AHL’s longest game, that humidity had climbed to 79 percent, food and replenishing drinks were scarce, and so were the fans. About 300 of the announced crowd of 5,385 at the Bojangles Coliseum were still there, someone estimated to Lyon.
The new top five: pic.twitter.com/jft9b2pogA
— AHL Communications (@AHLPR) May 10, 2018
How did they know? They counted them.
Because of injuries, the Phantoms played with five defensemen from the first period on. Which meant they spent an inordinate time defending. Some played 67 minutes. Some played more than 70. The smell in the room between periods built with the absurdity. “I can’t even imagine some of those D men, what their shirts were like,” said the goaltender.
From the point that Charlotte’s Patrick Brown tied the game early in Charlotte’s dominant second period, Lyon stopped 79 consecutive shots over the final 119:56 of the game. He was helped — a Checkers shot rang the crossbar with 57 seconds to go in regulation — but this was mostly about a player who is in a zone right now. The night before, the Checkers — whose 262 goals in the regular season were the most in the AHL — had fired 35 shots at Lyon in a 5-1 loss that gave Lehigh Valley the series lead.
“You’ve got to credit their goalie,’’ Charlotte’s Brown said. “He’s really playing well.’’
And has been since an early bumpy start of the season in Allentown. This was the Yale product’s primary goal entering this season, a goal that was tested by long periods of inactivity as a Flyers backup, and by the short leash he seemed to be on under head coach Dave Hakstol. “You can either choose to let a few things bother you or try to get it so nothing bothers you,’’ Lyon said. “It’s a dull, boring life, but not too much rattles my cage anymore.’’
So what did he do as the periods mounted? He joked. He drank a ton of water. He even broke the purported Cardinal rule of sports: He contemplated losing the game. “I felt, especially after the first overtime, that I had to come to terms with that,’’ he said. “So I could just play freely and loosely. Because if you’re scared of that — you just can’t be in that space.’’
“I think more than anything as a goalie, you want to stay in that head space. My game is in a really good place right now. So more than anything I want to continue this. We have to play in another 36 hours. And we’re trying to end a team’s season, which is never easy. On the road …’’
There were sirens blaring in the background as he said that, the typical backdrop of Charlotte’s morning commute. Morning commute? Lyon had played almost 200 minutes, the equivalent of three games. He had fallen asleep at 3 a.m., but that didn’t go very well. In the aftermath of the AHL’s longest game ever, amid a save performance eclipsed only by Michael Leighton’s 98 in a loss to these very same Phantoms in 2008, he had forgotten to eat.
“Actually, for whatever reason, I really couldn’t,’’ he said.
So he and his wobbly legs were walking the streets of Charlotte at 9:30 in the morning, seeking a pile of eggs and flapjacks, something big and filling to send him back to his hotel room for a much-needed nap.
“Overall, it was a pretty bad experience,’’ he said. “One of those things that is so great after the fact, and I’m so happy we won, but it was a really, really brutal experience. Like a marathon. It sucks while you’re doing it, but boy is it great after.’’