The problem of ties

I am sick and tired of ties in hockey. College hockey, that is. The other levels that I follow always have winners.

Last night I went up to Grand Forks to see the University of North Dakota take on St. Cloud State University, and for the second time in a row with me in attendance, the game ended in a tie.

This time it was a 2-2 tie in a game that saw North Dakota double the shot totals of St. Cloud State but fail to get more goals on the board because of the strong goaltending of St. Cloud’s Ryan Faragher.

The previous time, UND tied Alaska-Anchorage 3-3 in a game that UND was lucky to even send into overtime. Derek Forbort scored the game-tying goal with 1:08 remaining in regulation.

Both times, I left the Ralph Engelstad Arena feeling a lack of closure. The two games were likely the only regular-season games I’ll see in person this season, and I don’t get Midco Sports Network at my apartment, so I can’t watch on TV. For both games to end in a tie is disappointing.

As someone who didn’t grow up being immersed in the game, I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to hockey, so I don’t understand the point of a tie. If I’m going to spend $50 on a ticket, I don’t want to watch 65 minutes of hockey only to have the teams end right where they began before puck drop: tied.

And it’s not just when I’m in attendance that I care. Last weekend, UND and Minnesota met for the final time ever in WCHA regular season play. Minnesota took Friday’s game 5-1, but Saturday’s game—the final game—ended in a tie. That’s no way for a great era in college hockey to end.

So what should college hockey do? Just add a shootout? Not exactly.

The system I envision for college hockey, which could also apply to other levels of hockey, is this:

  • Extend overtime and make it four-on-four. Currently, NCAA hockey has one sudden-death five-minute overtime period. Teams play five-on-five unless conference policy dictates that they play four-on-four or the teams mutually consent to four-on-four play. Extending the overtime period to ten minutes or even fifteen wouldn’t make the game much longer, but it would increase the probability of a team scoring in overtime. In addition, four-on-four play opens up the ice and allows for higher scoring.
  • Add a shootout. I realize that many people hate the shootout. The shootout basically amounts to a skills competition deciding who wins the game. In a sport like hockey, which is considered by some to be the ultimate team sport, something seems wrong about shootouts. But as gimmicky as it is, some fans—myself included—love it. It’s exciting, and at least, it keeps games from ending in a tie. You could still avoid ties and shootouts by just playing extra time until someone scores, but the potential for marathon games raises other issues. I think shootouts need to exist, but they need to be rarer. Ten or fifteen minutes of four-on-four would make that happen.
  • Change the points system. One problem with leagues that do use the shootout is that teams get a point in the standings for losing in a shootout. Teams that lose in overtime also get a point. Why should they get that point? Whether the team lost in regulation, overtime, or a shootout, they still lost. Perhaps the best points system would be two points for any win, whether it’s in regulation, overtime, or the shootout, and zero points for any loss.

I realize that my system isn’t perfect, and it wouldn’t satisfy everyone. But let’s face it: Would any system be perfect and satisfy everyone?

What do you think should be done? Or should the current system be left as is?

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