Commentary: College hockey should follow model of NCHC, WCHA overtimes

It's a good thing college hockey fans won't be in the room this week in Naples, Fla., when coaches and administrators discuss what's expected to be the hottest topic at the annual convention.


It's a good thing college hockey fans won't be in the room this week in Naples, Fla., when coaches and administrators discuss what's expected to be the hottest topic at the annual convention.

They would probably cringe at some of the things that will be said when the debate turns to overtimes.

Right now, there are three different ways that overtime is handled across the six conferences in college hockey.

They all play an NCAA-mandated, five-minute, five-on-five overtime. If nobody scores, the game officially goes in the books as a tie. Three leagues end it there, too, and the fans go home.

Three other leagues play on for conference points only.


The National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association move to a five-minute, three-on-three overtime. If nobody scores in that, it goes to a sudden-death shootout.

The Big Ten moves directly to a three-person shootout after the five-on-five overtime.

Most would like to make overtimes uniform across college hockey. That makes sense. It can limit confusion among fans.

However, a number of coaches will push to eliminate the three-on-three and shootouts and let games end in ties.

That wouldn't be a good idea for a sport that's trying to bring in new fans.

The coaching body has a lot of power in college hockey.

They understandably see things through their own prism. When issues arise, their view generally depends on whether it gives their program an advantage-not whether it's good for fans or the sport as a whole.

Some coaches openly admit that they want to be able to play for ties. They'd rather tie than risk a loss. They believe ties help with job security.


However, that's exactly what the paying customer does not want to see. Nobody buys a ticket to a college hockey game to watch teams try to play for ties.

The NCHC and WCHA have the best setup for overtimes in college hockey.

Games that go into three-on-three or the shootout are still technically ties. As far as the NCAA selection process and Pairwise Rankings are concerned, they are ties.

The three-on-threes just provide a little bit of bonus entertainment for the fans with zero impact on the national picture and minimal impact on the conference standings.

Had the NCHC, WCHA and Big Ten ended games after the five-on-five overtime this year and not gone to the three-on-threes or shootouts, their end-of-season standings would have been no different. All three leagues would have finished exactly the same and had the exact same conference matchups in the playoffs.

In the three years that the NCHC has used the three-on-three, there would have only been one change in the standings had the league ended after five-on-five. In 2015-16, St. Cloud State and Denver tied for second. St. Cloud State won a tiebreaker to get the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. Denver would have been second without three-on-threes or shootouts.

In the two years that the WCHA has used the three-on-three, the only change in the standings would have come in 2016-17, when Lake Superior State finished seventh and Northern Michigan eighth. Under the old system, they would have been tied and NMU would have won the tiebreaker.

These are minimal differences in order to give the fans bonus entertainment at the end of the tie.


That's not the only reason college hockey should follow the NCHC and WCHA model.

College hockey tries to sell itself as a developmental league for prospects. When the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, ECHL and virtually every pro league in Europe (Russia’s KHL, Germany’s DEL, Switzerland’s NLA, Austria’s EBEL, Finland’s Liiga, Sweden’s SHL, Czech Republic’s Extraliga) use the three-on-three, why wouldn't college do it, too?

The difference is that in professional leagues, it's the owners and general managers with the power. They're looking for ways to sell the game to fans, not just trying to figure out what will help their team the most this upcoming season.

When coaches and administrators meet in Naples this week and discuss overtimes, they should keep the same in mind.

Three-on-three overtimes are entertaining for the fans, they have little if any impact on the standings and they give players a taste of what they'll be doing in the future.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
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