January 4, 2007 PRINT Bookmark and Share

No Shootouts: Another View

by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor

Adam Wodon writes about the disappointing end to the Canada-USA semifinal in the World Junior tournament — disappointing not for the result (Canada defeated the U.S.) but for the way the game was decided, by shootout.

We may have to get used to it soon in the college game, however.

Shootouts aren't anything new in hockey. Adam mentions the 1994 Olympic gold medal game being decided by one. They've been a part of international and minor league hockey for years, and have recently crept into the NHL — though the senior circuit says "not any time soon" regarding the possibility of shootouts in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Hockey East experimented with the shootout in regular season league games for two years (1994-96) before scrapping the idea. But it may be on its way back, this time for all of college hockey.

The college game hasn't been without it. Permission has been granted by the rules committee to use the shootout in tournament settings, and we've seen it many times in recent years. It's used most often in consolation games to decide a winner and prevent the game from dragging on and holding up the next game, although we've also seen it in tournament first round games and occasional championship games. Thankfully, it hasn't had a major effect yet — the games go in the books as a tie, which would have happened anyway.

But this is all about to change. The NCAA plans to eliminate ties no later than the 2008-09 season, and the shootout is one of the methods that will probably be used to do just that. (See NCAA Ice Hockey Rules & Interpretations PDF, p. 10.)

This is not the way hockey was meant to be played.

Mini One-on-One between periods of Boston Bruins games, where most of us probably first saw the format way back in the 1970s, is entertaining but it isn't hockey. Heck, we played it in driveways when we didn't have enough players for a real game, but if enough other guys showed up, we didn't say "Forget it, we'd rather just shoot on the goalie instead."

The point system is another issue. In 1994, Hockey East began the season with two points awarded for a win (shootout or not) and one for a shootout loss. This presented two problems that the coaches immediately complained about. The first was that a shootout win was worth as much as a "normal" win. Also, games decided by shootout ended up being worth three points in total, whereas a game won outright was only worth two.

The league scrambled for a solution and quickly changed the system so that five points were awarded for a regular win (in regulation or overtime), three for a shootout win and two for a shootout loss. Still, the experiment only lasted two years. One reason might have been that the point system lessened the impact of the shootout — a shootout win was worth only 60 percent of a regular win.

If college hockey does go to a shootout to end ties, these issues will come up again. And I'm not sure there is a way to change the point system that will make everyone happy. Especially when it impacts not only the final conference standings but also NCAA selection. Just wait until the first time a team is edged out of a bid because of a loss in a shootout.

Ultimately the question is, do we really need to get rid of ties? What's wrong with the idea that two teams are closely matched on a given night and both deserve the tie?

I'd much rather see overtime in the regular season extended, at least to 10 minutes and possibly a full extra sudden-death period. Even four-on-four hockey would be preferable, although I'd argue that it represents a special teams situation that should only be in effect if it comes about through penalties being assessed. The rest of the game
isn't played four-on-four; neither should overtime.

In the end, let's hope the powers that be show some creativity and come up with a plan that is accepted by most people. If it is going to be done, it has to be done right. The worst thing will be if ties are ended in a way that is too gimmicky and leads to a clamor for a return to the old days.

Finally, let's see more penalty shots during actual game action. It is true that it is the most exciting play in hockey, but it happens too rarely — and in many situations when it could be called, referees opt for the minor instead. Why not adjust the rules to allow referees to call more penalty shots, even encourage it? It would add excitement to the game, address some of the issues with scoring being low, and possibly even decide some of those "evil" ties before even getting to overtime.

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