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Plenty of opinions as CCHA turns to shootout

by Adam Schwartz
Tom Anastos
The Central Collegiate Hockey Association is taking a page from the NHL's rulebook, becoming the first NCAA Division I college hockey conference to institute the shootout.

Unlike the NHL, the CCHA is sticking with a five-minute, 5-on-5 overtime period prior to the shootout. The NHL plays five minutes of 4-on-4 before heading to the tie-breaking shootout.

Like the NHL, the CCHA's shootout is going to feature a best-of-three format for shooters before extending to a sudden-death portion. And, like the NHL, both teams are guaranteed a point for reaching the tie-breaker. The shootout winner gets an extra point.

The implementation of the shootout is expected to generate excitement for CCHA fans.

"I think the shootout is going to be really good for the fans and the game," said Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson. "As a fan, when I watch NHL games it adds something to the game and it obviously breaks the ties.

"I think fans want to see more excitement in the game and this should generate that. We polled a lot of the players and they like it. They like the concept of it. They liked that it breaks the ties. We are one of the few collegiate sports that still has ties. It declares a winner and a loser and that's what the players like."

Pearson thinks the 5-on-5 overtime might encourage more teams to play for the shootout, as opposed to trying to end the game in overtime.

"In our situation, we are going to continue to play 5-on-5 in overtime so you'll probably even see even more teams playing for the shootout," Pearson said. "I'd imagine you would see that even more on the road, or when you are playing a tougher team or a higher-ranked team. You just want to get to that shootout where you feel your team would have a greater chance to win the game. I think you will definitely see some situations like that."

“You are giving your best shooters a chance to come in on a goalie with no resistance," Anastos said. "When you're playing 5-on-5 or even 4-on-4, there is resistance; but not in the shootout."
-- CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos

CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos also is not a fan of ties, but added practical considerations -- length of game and deteriorating ice conditions -- played a part in the decision to go to the tie-breaking option.

"My opinion is I'm not a big fan of ties," Anastos said. "I like to see a game and I like to see a result. One of the criticisms of the shootout is that you are putting a team sport in the hands of individuals and people say you wouldn't have a free-throw competition to decide a basketball game; but the reality is that it's hard to continue to extend the game because time is more of a factor. The ice conditions are certainly a factor in what you do.

"If you do want to see ties broken in some manner then this is proven to be an entertaining way to do so."

Despite its popularity with the fans, there are some who aren't in favor of the shootout -- such as Ohio State coach John Markell.

"I've gone through a couple in tournaments where you lose a couple and it still feels like a loss," Markell said. "Even though you get one point it still feels like a loss."

Markell feels that deciding games by the breakaway contest isn't the fairest way to settle a tie and rewards players that might be more one-dimensional, allowing them to excel in the shootout.

"There's going to be specialty players that can put the puck in the net," Markell said. "There's guys here in Columbus with the Blue Jackets that can do it in the shootout but can't do it during the game."

Anastos puts a more positive spin on the fact that players are going to have uncontested breakaways.

"You are giving your best shooters a chance to come in on a goalie with no resistance," Anastos said. "When you're playing 5-on-5 or even 4-on-4, there is resistance; but not in the shootout.

"There's more pressure and there's more speed required in game situations, but here you are getting an uncontested opportunity for a goal. That never happens in a game unless that someone qualifies for a penalty shot."

Despite the undeniable skill exhibited in the shootout portion, Markell doesn't like the possibility of his team losing a hard-fought game in a breakaway competition.

"They played 65 hard minutes of hockey and then to lose it on a lucky shot, I don't think that's fair," he said. "We have to increase the fan value, but it still feels like a loss because the other team's celebrating and you're not." 

While Pearson disagrees with Markell, he knows things can change during the season. Pearson described Michigan as an offensive team that likes to take chances in overtime, but they just may wind up playing for the shootout later in the season.

"I would tell you that we would try to not change our style in overtime and that we are going to stay aggressive," Pearson said. "We want to end the game as quick as possible, that's the way we're going to play; but at the same time that's me sitting here saying that in early August, but in February on the road in Notre Dame we might be saying, 'You know, let's not be as aggressive and get into the shootout.'

"As time goes on, I think you might see some different strategies from coaches. Some of the coaches in the CCHA have been in pro situations where they have used the shootout and they might already have some strategies. I think as things go on we are going to learn more about shootout and overtime."

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