The Mankato Free Press
---- — Love it or hate it, the shootout is coming to a men's college hockey game near you.
No, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association isn't adding the post-overtime tiebreaker (at least not yet), as the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference announced that it would be implementing in its inaugural season.
But you won't have to drive to St. Cloud or Omaha to see penalty shots decide a game. You can just go to Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.
Last week, the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference announced that it will be using the shootout to settle ties in its in-conference men's hockey games, becoming the first Division III conference to adopt the rule.
While some folks love the postgame theatrics of a mano-a-mano, skater-vs.-goalie play, others — usually self-described hockey purists — believe it's a gimmick that shouldn't decide important points for standings that ultimately determine who's in and who's out of the playoffs.
While the shootout doesn't replicate the actual 5-on-5 team game of hockey to break a tie, it does add some excitement to a finish. It shows off players' skills. It also gives teams and fans the satisfaction (or disappointment) of a real game result — a win or a loss — rather than the blah feeling that so-often permeate both the locker rooms and arena exits after a tie.
My thoughts? Hey, I'm on deadline. I'd prefer the games not go into overtime in the first place!
The National Hockey League adopted the shootout in 2005, and it's largely been considered a success. The now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association introduced the shootout in 2008. It's teams have scattered to the WCHA, NCHC and Hockey East, so only two of its teams — Miami and Western Michigan — will continue that this fall in the NCHC. In women's hockey, the WCHA, which includes Minnesota State, also added the shootout in 2008.
The MIAC has also changed up its point system for this year's standings. It will award three points for a regulation win, two for an overtime or shootout win and one for an overtime or shootout loss.
The hope is that the shootout and new point system will unclog a jam-packed standings, especially in a league that has just 16 conference games. Last season, the league's shootout press release points out, "there was a possible six-way tie looming for first place" going into the final weekend of the season, and eight of the league's nine teams still had a shot to make the five-team postseason tournament.
How exciting would it be to see a playoff spot decided by a shootout on the final day of the regular season? Still not as thrilling as an overtime game-winner, although, oddly, the result will be the same.
Just six MIAC games ended in a tie last season, while just four others went to overtime. A year earlier, there were eight ties, so the shootout may be a rare sight.
In small doses, it might be kind of fun.
Shane Frederick is a Free Press staff writer. Read his blog at mankatofreepresshockey.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @puckato.