Morgan McHaffie and the longest game in college history

On March 3, 2011, Becky Conroy of the Queen’s Gaels scored with just five seconds remaining in the third period to create a 1-1 tie in a playoff match against the Guelph Gryphons. That goal would unleash the longest game in the history of college hockey, for both men and women, across North America. The two teams would battle it out for a gruelling 167 minutes of play over more than five hours.

Finally, in the sixth overtime period, forward Morgan McHaffie of Queen’s would pick up a rebound off Guelph goalie Danielle Skoufranis and fire the puck into the net.

The game was second in length only to an NHL playoff game played 75 years earlier. On March 24, 1936, Detroit beat Montreal 1-0 after 176 minutes.

“At the time we only had three lines and to play a game that long was one of the toughest and most exhilarating experiences of my life,” says McHaffie, who was named head coach of the Queen’s women’s hockey team in September.

In that 2010-11 season, Queen’s would face five overtime playoff matches – winning them all – en route to an Ontario University Athletics championship.

“When we won the title, it was such a great feeling to look around the dressing room and see all the love and support everyone had for each other,” McHaffie told the Original Hockey Hall of Fame. Her twin sister, Brittany, also played on the championship team, notching six points in eight playoff games.

Following the OUA title, Queen’s won a bronze medal at the Canadian Intercollegiate Sports championship that same year. Two years later, in 2013, the team won another OUA championship.  

Born in London, Ontario, McHaffie grew up in Woodstock, where there was no organized hockey for girls. At the age of 9, the family moved to Guelph and the twins were enrolled in the local house league, moving up to play rep after a couple of years.

“We were a hockey family,” McHaffie recalls. “We were huge Leafs fans and every Saturday we would watch Hockey Night in Canada. During intermissions, we would head down to the basement to play ball hockey.”

After finishing high school, she considered scholarship offers from American schools, but turned them down to play for Queen’s. “I loved the fact that women had been playing hockey there since the 1890s, through the Red Barons team in the 1970s and the more recent Queen’s teams.”

At the time, Queen’s had just hired a new coach, Matt Holmberg. “He had a mission to revamp the culture on the women’s hockey team,” McHaffie recalls. “He wanted to ensure that the entire team was driven to succeed, focusing on team-building, increasing trust and strengthening relationships.”

It worked. “We came together as a team, even though we weren’t the most skilled group in the league,” she says. With only three lines, each player got a lot of ice team so the team focused on conditioning to maintain their speed and endurance.

In her first year, 2009-10, the team lost in the opening playoff round to Guelph. That made them even more determined – over the summer, they worked hard to improve their fitness. The result: Two consecutive provincial titles.

After graduation, she took a position with Empire Life Insurance as an underwriter and served a seven-year stint as an assistant coach with the Gaels. She has also volunteered with the Kingston Ice Wolves.

“Over the years, I have coached players in ages ranging from 5 to 25. I learned so much from both – how to simplify concepts and break down each step so that they can learn.”

After taking over as bench boss of the Gaels, McHaffie was determined to add grit to the mix, taking a page from 2023 Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights.

“It hurts to win,” emphasizes Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy, noting the team’s willingness to take checks, battle it out in front of the opposing goal and block shots.

In the women’s game, bodychecking is prohibited but play is still physical. “It’s important to find unique ways to add grittiness and create a ‘tough to play against’ mentality,” McHaffie says.

That can be challenging when the officiating is inconsistent, with some referees allowing players to fight for the puck in the corners and others blowing the whistle for bodychecking.

“We want to be known as a team that is tough, while being professional and respectful.” She describes an important component of grit as applying pressure to your opponent when they don’t have the puck, blocking their path and taking away passing lanes.

She loves the fact that the referees in the fledgling Professional Women’s Hockey League are letting the players be aggressive. “The league is unbelievably inspiring for girls and young women. I would have died for that opportunity to play professionally.”

The women’s pro league is just getting under way, but for the Gaels players it means that they can dream of a hockey future beyond the Queen’s campus. “It can be hard to convince the players to watch hockey on TV and learn because they are so busy with academics, volunteering, practices, games and off-ice conditioning,” the rookie head coach says.

“However, at the practice following the opening game of the PWHL, I asked who had watched and every single player put up their hand. Each had a big smile on their face.”