by Mark Schuttenhelm/Special to CHN
Let's face it. The merits, or lack thereof, of the shootout have been beaten to death. Hockey purists like myself think the shootout is the worst idea to come down the pike in years, and cannot be convinced otherwise. Others feel just as strongly the opposite way.
But now we've reached a new low with regard to this gimmick. We're just four weeks into this young season, and I've had to endure two meaningless non-conference shootouts already, one in person and one on the tube. To be honest, I don't know what I find more disturbing — a shootout that actually affects league standings, or a shootout which has absolutely no bearing on anything.
The adoption of the shootout in both new leagues — the Big Ten and NCHC — seems to have opened the door for this to creep into non-league games, even though it's nothing more than a show put on for confused fans.
Why were fans confused? It was opening weekend at Ralph Englestad Arena. The Saturday game against Vermont ended in a 2-2 tie. After the overtime period, it was announced the game ended in a tie, and that the teams would now take part in a shootout. The fact that it was meaningless was never mentioned.
It was clear that a good portion of the crowd didn't know what to think. The genuine excitement that was in the building during the overtime period was replaced by fake excitement, like canned laughter on a sitcom.
Now we fast forward to the Oct. 25 battle between Boston College and Minnesota. A good, fast-paced game between two ranked teams ends in a 3-3 tie. A similar announcement is made.
Two days later, during Sunday's game, Gophers broadcaster Doug McLeod commented on the air that a large number of Gophers fans thought their team lost Friday because BC prevailed in the shootout. He opined that the 'practice' shootout wasn't properly explained to the fans.
There's a good reason for that, I figure: How do you tell fans who've just watched an excellent hockey game that they are about to witness a 'play' shootout, an exhibition if you prefer, that has no effect on anything? I'd love to hear that announcement. What would we say if two NFL teams, after one of those rare ties, trotted out their place kickers and offered the fans a meaningless 'kick-off?' I can hear the laughter now.
Perhaps most troubling is the new emphasis on providing 'entertainment.' Even some coaches are on the bandwagon, clearly, since they are the ones who have to agree to have the shootout in the first place. I asked Vermont for coach Kevin Sneddon's reaction to the shootout. I did not expect him to rip it, that wouldn't be politically correct. But I was expecting a lukewarm reaction to the spectacle. Here's the quote from Sneddon: "Despite being meaningless in a non-conference game, the shootout certainly provided the fans with some great entertainment."
Now, I would dispute that it was 'great' entertainment from the word go. But the bigger question here is, when did coaches become so concerned with entertaining the fans? And I don't mean to single out Sneddon, other coaches have made similar comments. Are we playing serious hockey here, or are we trying to compete with theaters, malls and Facebook?
The bottom line on this is simple. About 10 percent of our games end in a tie. Anybody who would make a decision to attend a college hockey game based on the 10 percent chance of seeing a tiebreaking shootout is not making a prudent decision.
And any 'hockey fan' who is not sufficiently entertained by 65 minutes of competitive hockey maybe isn't really a hockey fan and perhaps shouldn't be at the rink in the first place.