jhett folk | contributor
john loeppky | sports editor
Time to decide whether shootouts should stay or go
Jhett: For the love of Gretzky, can the shootout please be removed from the holiness that is the great sport of hockey? Who in their right mind thinks deciding a team game should come down to each team sending out their most sure-handed (not even necessarily best) player(s) to trade breakaway chances? Hockey is a game of endurance, strength, speed, and intellect. Hockey is a game of five guys (and a goalie) per side going to all-out ice war. Removing all of that and deciding a victor based on pure hand-eye coordination is sickening in comparison.
This is not to say that any sport should ever be decided by a tie, though that is an entirely different issue that needs addressing. It is to say, however, that measures should be taken to have neither a tie nor a shootout to decide victory.
This particular issue was highlighted in the 2017 World Junior Championships gold medal game between Canada and the USA. One of the most prestigious tournaments in hockey, and its victor was decided by the joke of a skills competition people call the shootout. It seems there is a strong push today to shorten hockey games as players have a lot on their schedules and fatigue can set in quite hard. The issue I have with this thought process is that these players know what they are signing up for. If you are going to play the game of hockey, particularly at an elite level such as at World Juniors, you had better prepare yourself for fatigue, aches, and injuries.
Another flaw in the thought process of shortening games is that these athletes are in phenomenal shape in most cases. If there is any archetype of a person that can handle the strains of a hockey season, it is an NHL player. Perhaps you have a case against stopping the shootout when it comes to NHL, AHL, and elite European leagues because a large number of players in these leagues are past their physical prime and still playing at the highest calibre of hockey. I would stress again, however, that these players know what they have signed up for. Accountability, people.
The main case I’m making here is that the young guns at the World Juniors surely do not have the types of aches and pains that the old farts in the NHL may. Keeping this in mind, there should be no reason for a game such as the gold medal game of the World Juniors to be decided by a shootout. The players are young, healthy, and not yet weathered, so play that extra period. Even if you don’t want more long five-on-five periods, lower the numbers to three-on-three. At least in the case of three-on-three, you still have some semblance of the game in which each team just battled in for the previous sixty minutes. At the end of the day, there is too much at stake such as playoffs/playoff seeding in the NHL and medals in international tournaments. A weak skills competition like the shootout should not decide such things.
John: We need the shootout because hockey games should to be decided at a point where the players can still exhibit their skills. Have you ever seen a hockey game, or any professional contest for that matter, that dragged into the fourth or fifth overtime? The athletes look as if they’re lugging themselves out from a bar at three in the morning, haphazardly slapping on skates, and attempting to play while still blitzed. This being completely different from what the Giants receivers were doing a few weeks ago.
Sure, it’s nice for a couple of periods, but after that, the only people who are rested are the scorekeepers, who have dozed off because neither team can put one in the back of the net. Unless it’s the greatest game in the history of the world, I bet half of the fans would take those complementary shirts that franchises love to hand out, curl up with it in a ball, and sleep the rest of the night away. I think the only reason they don’t is because it would guarantee that they ended up on a less-than-complementary segment of SportsCentre.
There is an argument to be made that shootouts should decide some games and not others, but that logic stinks of the NHL’s usual half-baked logic. Let’s only enforce this rule sometimes, perhaps we could put Brendan Shanahan in charge of this decision just so he can screw one more thing up for hockey lovers.
At the end of the day, I want to see a shootout, but I want to see it refined. Right now, three shooters are chosen; if one round does not solve anything, then the order is reversed and new shooters can be added. Here’s the wrinkle I want: pick two shooters each. If three rounds don’t fix it, then the goalies switch into skater equipment and shoot for all the glory. Then two more rounds with the two skaters and, if that doesn’t work, then each team’s equipment manager has to strap on equipment and fight (what my hometown used to call cage rage) until one comes out victorious.
Why that last part? Because wouldn’t it be great to have Bob McKenzie of TSN spending an entire hour of the endless pre-tournament coverage debating which Canadians would do best as equipment managers-turned-fighters? I can hear it now, the question of whether George St. Pierre could be taught to tape sticks just so he could snap some WWE meathead’s neck at centre ice for the gold. And the NHL thought that insurance would keep them out of the Olympics; just wait until the IIHF implements this blood-soaked rule change. Let the fun begin.