When it comes to the Savannah Tire Hockey Classic, John Hoos can say he's seen it all.
Hoos played in the inaugural event for the University of Georgia in 1999 and has coached the Ice Dogs ever since. But what happened at the end of last year's Georgia-Georgia Tech game - well, now he's really seen it all.
"You think over the course of time, you'll see every scenario," Hoos said last week as Georgia approached the 16th annual Savannah Tire Hockey Classic, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 with South Carolina playing The Citadel at the Savannah Civic Center.
"I think the crowd was as confused as anybody when Georgia Tech, with time running out in third period and ahead two goals, pulled their goaltender," Hoos recalled.
Indeed, the Yellow Jackets led the Ice Dogs 3-1 in the final seconds when they removed goaltender CJ Layer for an extra skater and the slim opportunity for more offensive weapons. That's usually a risk taken by the trailing team desperate for a goal, but in this case, Georgia Tech gambled.
"There are not too many situations in a game where the team winning pulls its goaltender," Georgia Tech coach Brian McSparron said. "You don't see that too often. Even some of the alumni, the guys in the stands, asked about it, but they understood."
An explanation was necessary. If the score held, then all four teams in the two-day portion of the 2013 tournament - Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida and Florida State - would finish 1-1. As the head-to-head records were even, the next tiebreaker was goals against, which knocked out the two schools from the Sunshine State. Georgia would win the Thrasher Cup by virtue of its 8-6 goal differential, to 7-6 for Tech, thus the Jackets' sense of urgency for another goal.
Meanwhile, Hoos normally would swap his goalie for another skater and a long shot at tying the game, but didn't.
"That was probably the most difficult decision for us to make, to try to tie the game or win the game," Hoos said. "If we hold the score to what it was, we win the tournament.
"We were playing the game to win it," he said. "We also wanted to play to win the tournament. It was an unusual set of circumstances."
What has been more usual over the past 15 years was the winner of the event's Saturday night finale capturing the Thrasher Cup, named for the now-former NHL team in Atlanta. Despite winning that game 3-1 and losing the Cup, Tech still leads with seven Cup titles, while Georgia has six and FSU and Florida have one apiece. The South Carolina-The Citadel match of Palmetto State rivals, instituted in 2010, is a prelude to the weekend competition.
"In the last five, six years, there's a bit more parity of all four teams," Hoos said of the domination by the Peach State teams. "In the inaugural years, that was certainly the case. ... I think every year now, every team can win it."
After four different champions in four years (2008-11), Tech was going for its third consecutive cup in 2013 when it opened as usual with Florida State and fell 5-4 in a shootout to the Seminoles and goaltender Blake Wladyka.
"Losing the first night to FSU, we didn't expect that," McSparron said. "We ran into a hot goaltender. (Wladyka) stole the show on us. Definitely we were down after the game. It's always nice knowing we got Georgia the next night, regardless. It's an easy pick-me-upper."
Each of the four teams wants as much control of its destiny as possible under the classic format, with its predetermined schedule based on the biggest rivalries. On Jan. 17, Tech plays Atlantic Coast Conference foe FSU, followed by the Southeastern Conference matchup of Georgia against Florida. On Jan. 18, Florida plays FSU followed by Georgia against Tech in front of by far the biggest crowd each year.
"We always want Georgia to win that Florida game," said McSparron said of his team's path to the cup. "After our game (Jan. 17), we are Georgia fans."
Georgia Tech rooting for its biggest rival, even for one game? Now that's really seeing it all.