BROOKLYN — His team participated in a epic thriller that could go down as one of the most breathtaking ice hockey games in Northeast Ohio history.
But pardon Hudson head ice hockey coach Caleb Wyse if he doesn’t look forward to watching his gritty squad’s latest contest on ESPN Classic.
"It always sucks to lose," Wyse said.
The Explorers did lose. But they sure gave their well-wishers their money’s worth.
Underdog Hudson’s upset bid fell just a crumb short after losing a 2-1 decision to Mentor in a mesmerizing five overtime periods Saturday.
The Baron Cup I semifinal match took place at John M. Coyne Recreation Center in Brooklyn. With the win, the Cardinals, who defeated their Greater Cleveland High School Hockey League Red North East Division rival four times this winter, earned a date in Sunday’s Baron Cup title game.
The Explorers, who finished in a tie for third in the Red North East Division, dropped to 15-13-2. Mentor, the Red North East regular-season champion, improved to 27-4-2.
After more than 82 minutes of intense drama, Luke Jeffery finally settled matters with 2 minutes, 53 seconds remaining in the fifth overtime period.
Jeffery received a pass from Andrew McBride and skated toward the goal before cutting left and putting a backhand shot past Hudson goaltender Will Hannon.
"It comes down to one little mistake," Wyse said. "Either way, it goes in the back of the net."
Breakaways were about as rare as fire rainbows. Whenever there was even the slightest opening, both teams covered it up quickly by having at least one defender in front of an anxious attacker.
That was the case even when some bodies were missing on the rink.
The Explorers had three penalty kills and the Cardinals denied four power-play opportunities.
In fact, it took nearly 40 minutes for either team to find the net, thanks to lights-out goaltending by Hudson’s Will Hannon and and Mentor’s Alex Toth.
Hannon stopped 58 shots, while Toth was even more impressive with 64 saves.
The Explorers struck first with a little more than six minutes left in regulation.
Luke Karnofel broke the deadlock when he found the net from point-blank range on the left side. Karnofel got the puck after a shot by teammate Cam Slifko was deflected.
It looked like that was all Hudson needed since Hannon was a human force field in the net.
He also got some assistance from defenseman Blake Lori, who thwarted many Cardinal attacks and caused a number of turnovers on the Explorers’ end.
But Hudson’s hopes of competing for the prestigious Baron Cup championship got an agonizing twist in the final minute.
Evan McBride got to a puck near the center line and just flicked it toward the Explorers’ goal. It wound up going right to his brother Andrew, who tapped the puck into the net just inches away from the goal.
When regulation ended, both teams had three-minute waits in between a few of the overtime periods and a pair of 12-minute breaks as well.
Make no mistake about it, though, all of the athletes were completely gassed long before Jeffery’s game-winner.
"Both teams were pretty tired," Wyse said. "Five overtimes, three tough periods, two good teams going at it … it’s not like it was patty cake out there."
For the super competitive Wyse, the defeat was absolutely gut-wrenching. Nonetheless, he did acknowledge his players’ valiant efforts to fight admirably despite utilizing their bodies to near insane levels.
"I couldn’t be more proud," Wyse said. "We had three full periods and five overtimes and we got 110 percent from everybody. You can’t ask for anything more.
"You can’t tell them to hang their heads. You have to be proud. It’s a game they will always remember."
Perhaps the loss may actually be a blessing in disguise.
Not that they have some free time Sunday, the Hudson players can rest their bodies and gear up for the postseason tournament.
The ninth-seeded Explorers have a date with 10th-seeded Kent Roosevelt in the opening round of the Kent district tournament. That game is scheduled to take place Monday at Kent State University Ice Arena. Play is set to begin at 8 p.m.
Wyse, on the other hand, would have preferred to take his chances. No rest for the weary wouldn’t have sounded sweeter for the Hudson head coach if his team was playing for the Baron Cup.
"We want to win," Wyse said. "Regardless of what time it is, we’re ready to play."
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @FrankAceto_RPC.