When an NHL game is tied at the end of overtime, a Zamboni rides onto the ice and cleans a path for a shootout. The winning team earns a W and an extra point.
At the end of a Minnesota Wild practice, Assistant Coaches Darby Hendrickson and Darryl Sydor clean the ice with shovels for a team shootout. But the ‘winner’ is the player who doesn’t score.
In the Wild shootout, skaters’ faceoff against goaltenders in a round-by-round elimination: if you score, you’re out; if you don’t, you have to keep shooting. This continues until there is a goal-less last man standing.
“We usually do them the day before a game at the end of practice, just to get some practice in,” Wild winger Cal Clutterbuck
explained. “Shootouts these days are big. The extra point you can get, or lose, in shootouts is huge.”
And even though the Wild skaters are trying to put pucks past their goaltending counterparts, this is not a white-knuckled contest.
“I think it’s more for fun and competing,” goaltender Josh Harding
said with a smirk before adding, “And to see who’s the big loser.”
Clutterbuck reiterates that the Wild shootouts are more about relaxing after a hard week of practice.
“We’re working really hard and that can get a little tedious when you’re coming in every day and working that hard, and obviously it's necessary, but if you thrown in something like that in at the end, it gives you a little lighter feeling coming off the ice.”
There is a lighter feeling for the players coming off the ice, maybe, with the exception of the shootout loser. Whichever player doesn’t score has to do locker room chores, as Clutterbuck put it, like buying new magazines.
But don’t think that the competition lies squarely on the shoulders of the shooters. If the Wild goaltenders allow a consecutive number of goals behind them, they lose. Harding wouldn’t divulge what the losing player’s award (or punishment) is, but noted that, whatever is at stake, the goaltenders haven’t had to pony-up because of a loss.
Clutterbuck was a little more willing to surrender what he endured after a shootout loss, probably because he was the first winner/loser of the contest with facial hair on the line.
At the beginning of each month, the Wild hold a distinctive shootout to determine "The Mustache Boy." The player who doesn’t score during the competition loses his razor for a month.
“I was actually 'Mustache Boy.' So I have to grow a mustache for the month of October,” said Clutterbuck sporting nearly a months worth of upper-lip shag.
There is another interesting ritual performed during The Mustache Boy shootout. Players who have already scored bang their sticks in unison, either to distract or encourage the final two shooters en route to the net.
“It’s the equivalent of the slow clap, I guess,” Clutterbuck explained. “Someone just started it when I was actually losing the Mustache Boy one. It’s obviously become a tradition now.”
Throughout the rigors of an NHL season, it’s important to mix work with fun, and to try to find out what works, and what doesn’t. Even if that means trying to pull off an unorthodox move, which some players often try, that may lead to en extended vacation from the razor. Even if Clutterbuck finds a sweet new move at the end of practice shootout, he has perspective on being one of the Wild’s shooters in the game.
“If I’m going in a shootout in a game, it’s probably because the first 17 guys have missed.”