Jordan Kawaguchi is one of the top NCAA free agents now eligible to sign with National Hockey League clubs. (University of North Dakota photo)

Jordan Kawaguchi’s NCAA career ends with five-overtime thriller

The all-time Chilliwack Chiefs great suffered hearbreak in a playoff loss to Minnesota-Duluth

Jordan Kawaguchi’s NCAA career is done.

The all-time Chilliwack Chiefs great did his best to save the season for his University of North Dakota (UND) Fighting Hawks, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a 3-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the longest NCAA men’s game in history.

The two teams wouldn’t have ended up in overtime, much less five overtimes, if not for Kawaguchi’s late-game heroics. Gooch’s crew trailed the Bulldogs 3-1 with less than three minutes to play, and UND coach Brad Berry pulled goalie Adam Scheel (former Penticton Vee) with 160 seconds remaining to give his team an extra attacker.

After Collin Adams scored to get the Hawks within one, it was Kawaguchi’s turn.

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The UND captain buried a feed from linemate Shane Pinto at 19:04.5, sending the game into lots and lots of extra time. Four overtime periods came and went without a decision. The game lasted six hours and 15 minutes total, finally ending when seldom-used freshman forward Luke Mylymok slipped a five-hole shot through Scheel at 1 a.m. North Dakota time.

An emotionally and physically drained Kawaguchi had to handle the post-game press conference.

“I thought we played well. Two great teams going at it and the score and the overall game reflected it,” he said, eyes read and bleary from tears and exhaustion. “Either team could have won it, and it just so happened they did.

“Those are my brothers and my family in there, and that’s pretty much all I said to them (after the game).”

After playing the near-equivalent of two games in one night, Kawaguchi wasn’t ready to turn the page and start thinking about the future, but just because his NCAA days are done doesn’t mean the Abbotsford product doesn’t have plenty of hockey in front of him.

The 23-year-old will be a free agent target for National Hockey League clubs, and he is now free to sign on the dotted line.

Several articles and blogs list Kawaguchi as one of the top free agent options, and while his slightly undersized frame and good-but-not-great skating might eventually hold him back, he does have a chance to play at the very highest level.

Kawaguchi spent five seasons at UND, collecting 45 goals and 126 points in 136 career games. Prior to that he spent our seasons with the Chiefs and left as the BCHL club’s all-time points leader.

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