Special Report ... Shootouts
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Two years ago, the NCAA men's ice hockey rules committee inserted language into the rulebook that suggested ties should be eliminated from the sport.
This mortified some fans, those who strongly oppose things like shootouts, and see nothing wrong with ties. What did the committee mean by that?
Numerous ideas were on the table. Shootouts, 4x4 overtimes, 4x4 OT followed by five more minutes of 3x3, play to a winner at 5x5, radical concepts like alternating power plays — and any combination of the above.
Ultimately, when it was time to revise the rule book this past June, and following numerous and lengthy discussions with coaches and other officials, this rules committee decided to keep the status quo. However, it did put in language that allows conferences to do so, if they want, so long as the results have no bearing on the NCAA tournament selection criteria.
As a result, the CCHA jumped in, and over the summer, became the first league to introduce shootouts to college hockey since Hockey East experimented with — then eliminated — the idea in the mid-'90s. Like the NHL, teams will get one extra point for a shootout win. This will matter in the CCHA standings, but for NCAA purposes, the game will count as a tie. Unlike the NHL, overtime will be played as it has been, 5-on-5, and if there's a loser in OT, that team does not get a point.
The push to eliminate ties seems to have arisen in recent years over a concern that too many games end up deadlocked. This is certainly true — to some extent over recent years, and to a large extent when compared to, say, 30 years ago. This is because games are lower scoring and played tighter, which just mathematically makes it more likely to end up tied.
But is this a problem? Some say yes, some say no.
Those who think it's a problem believe that fans get cheated when there's no result. They think people want to see a winner. And some think the shootout is just plain fun.
Last year, 18 percent of games went to OT — two-thirds of those were not decided.
"We want to build a bigger fan base for college hockey," Alaska athletic director Forrest Karr — the new chair of the rules committee — said. "I think if the game ends in a result, people are more likely to tell their friends," Karr said. "The other thing, as a former goalie, as a former competitor, I like to compete. ... I think that was a concern when the NHL went to that, it would be a bad thing for goaltenders in particular, but I think there's someething to that, that competitors like to compete, and goalies like to be in that situation."
Those who disagree see nothing wrong with a game ending in a hard-fought tie. And the idea of a game being decided in such a gimmicky way as the shootout — where most of your team, particularly your defense, has no say in the outcome — seems anathema to one's hockey-loving senses.
"I am very much against removing ties," said Michigan Tech head coach Jamie Russell. "We don't play enough games to reduce ties. In the WCHA, the standings are so tight, points are like gold. Look at the NHL. How many teams have records at or above .500? The shootout, and getting a point for an OT loss, creates parity, it doesn't eliminate it.
"The rules committee is examining this and their OT statistical study shows the percentage of OT games at 17.3, 18.7, 17.8, 17.7, 18.5 and 17.6 from 2002 through December of 2007. This looked at over 1,000 games per year at the Men's Division I level. This is a 'rise' in the number of OT games? If someone can explain to me how a less than one percent change screams for a need to change our game, I am all ears."
Before the rules committee made its decision, College Hockey News polled all Division I coaches to gauge their feelings on the issue. Thirty-three coaches elected to respond. As you could imagine, opinions were all over the place.
By far the most selected response was "status quo." However, at 13-of-33 (39.4 percent), that means over 60 percent of coaches wanted a change of some sort.
But that didn't always mean "shootout" was part of that change.
There are so many varieties of possibilities, it's practically useless to simply list them all, but instead let's break it down this way:
13 Status Quo
10 Some change that includes a shootout
8 Some change but no shootout
2 Some change but unsure of what
That's 20-13 in favor of some change, but it's also 23-10 against a shootout.
Our survey was taken prior to the CCHA's decision, and responses from CCHA coaches certainly do not suggest any sort of universal support for the shootout. Though it does seem a higher percentage of CCHA coaches as a whole — at least those who responded — were more amenable to the idea than other conferences.
A sampling of some comments we received at the time, shows the diversity of opinion, and why it's so difficult to reach any consensus.
Jeff Jackson, Notre Dame head coach: "I would only be in favor of a shootout if we followed the NHL procedures. ... We should exhaust all efforts to end games by playing the game the way it was meant to be played first, before a shootout. Shootouts should not impact the RPI. All games ending in a regulation tie, should be counted as such, unless we use 5-on-5 in OT. Anything other than determining the outcome of a game (4 on 4, shootout, etc.) should not impact the integrity of the game or national rankings."
Dave Peters, Dartmouth assistant coach: "I am in favor of a 5-on-5 five-minute overtime as it is now, and then a five-round shootout. Five-on-5 gives more players the opportunity to play, the third line might get a couple of shifts. ... The shootout is really exciting, it would help our exposure and it gives the players another opportunity to win a hockey game."
Rick Comley, Michigan State coach: "Personally I think ties must be eliminated with teams receiving value for the tie. My preference would be to play until a winner, 5-on-5. I don't think that's realistic, especially for Division III teams, who don't always control their buildings. I also feel both Divisions don't necessarily need to go by the same process. ... If a shootout is the only feasible option, I feel it should have three shooters and be preceded by a five-minute 4-on-4 overtime.
Enrico Blasi, Miami head coach: "We play so many fewer games, to have maybe a third of your games decided in shootout — to see who wins the [regular-season] championship or who moves on — I don't know if I've been convinced of that yet. ... Somebody can convince me of that. I'm all for putting excitement in the game."
Tim Whitehead, Maine head coach: "My first choice is to play 4-on-4 for five minutes, then 3-on-3 for five minutes, then go to a shootout if still tied. The winning team would get two points and the losing team would get none. ... If the committee does not want to eliminate ties altogether, then they should add the shootout after the 4-on-4 and 3-on-3, but award one point to both teams after the 10 minutes of overtime. The winner of the shootout would get an extra point. If a man walked on the moon in 1969, I think a mathematician can figure out a viable RPI formula that accounts for the extra point. ... If the coaches vote to keep the status quo again for 2008-09, I have already decided to propose that we go to 7-on-7 for all OTs in 2009-10. That will increase the odds of the game ending in a tie, and should make them feel better. Another positive of a possible 7-on-7 OT format would be that youngsters attending the games will already be asleep by the time they reach the car, making it easier for their parents to put them down when they get home."
Frank Serratore, Air Force head coach: "I would say to leave it the same or go to 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 for the five-minute overtime. I am not a proponent for playing any longer than five minutes as the ice conditions become so poor. I am fine with a shootout if there are no points involved, with this, the shootout would simply be for the fans. One thing I am adamantly against is awarding a third point. With the few league games we play, I am afraid that awarding a third point would adversely affect the validity of the point standings. In awarding a third point in overtime, you might even see teams playing for a tie late in a game instead of playing for the win. This would not be good."
FINAL CHANGES (Approved July 2, 2008)
Rule 6-56-b. Shootout.
"A shootout may be conducted at the end of the five-minute overtime period for advancement purposes, in conference games or by mutual consent of both teams."
Rationale: The committee received several requests from conferences to experiment with a shootout in regular-season contests as a means to enhance the excitement of the game. The committee proposes this allowance in the hope that conferences will use a shootout and provide feedback for future consideration.
Appendix B, Shootout Protocol. This protocol is only to be used in accordance with rule 6-56-b.
1. It is recommended that the ice surface be dry scraped in the middle of the ice through both creases.
2. At the end of the five-minute overtime period, the head official will instruct the timekeeper to put two minutes on the clock and immediately start the clock.
3. The other two officials will request a list of three shooters from each coach.
4. The head official will meet at center ice with the captains to explain the protocol during the two-minute period.
5. The goalkeepers remain in the same ends as the overtime period.
6. The home team has the option of shooting first or defending first. If Team A's first two players score, while none of Team B's players score, the shootout is over and Team A wins the shootout.
7. If the shootout remains tied at the end of three rounds, each coach will select a different shooter, this time in a sudden death situation. The first three shooters are ineligible until all other bench players have attempted a shot, if necessary. Each team has an equal number of chances to shoot before a winner is declared.
• Players serving penalty time shall not be eligible for the shootout.
• If a shooter is injured in the shootout, the player may be replaced in subsequent rounds by a player off the bench.
• If a goalkeeper is injured in the shootout, the goalkeeper may be immediately replaced by a goalkeeper off the bench. The injured goalkeeper may not re-enter the shootout.
• All players not actively participating in the shootout must remain on their bench.
• Goalkeepers may be substituted, but no warm-up time will be allowed.