No team in Division I college hockey has more ties this season than the Boston University Terriers, and after a sixth decision-less finish on Saturday Jan. 25, it has become clear that the team and its fans are getting tired of Hockey East’s current five-minute, five-on-five overtime format.
The Terriers have had seven competitive games go to overtime this season. All seven contests were hosted in Hockey East, meaning five-on-five overtime was in effect – if the extra frame were to end without a decision, there would be no shootout, either. Six of the seven overtimes ended in a tie, while only one (Jan. 8’s 3-2 overtime win versus Brown) finished with a decision. By my math as of Friday morning, there have been 37 competitive Hockey East-hosted games that have gone to overtime this season. Of the 37 contests, 20 ended in a tie – not great.
I asked BU head coach Albie O’Connell about his thoughts on the league’s extra time format following the tie with UMass Lowell last Saturday, and his honesty was refreshing to hear, especially since I agree with what he had to say.
“I’d take anything but five-on-five,” O’Connell said. “Three-on-three [overtime] would be great. It’s fun to watch at the National Hockey League level. The guys really enjoy it.”
“There’s a lot of strategy to [three-on-three], and it allows the fans to get excited for overtime, instead of not a lot happening [with five-on-five overtime].”
During the semester break, the Terriers and the USA U-18’s went to five-on-five overtime before turning to five minutes of three-on-three and eventually a shootout to decide the exhibition game. O’Connell shared similar thoughts following that contest on Jan. 3.
“It would be awesome [to have a shootout and three-on-three] more often,” O’Connell said at the time. “The fans would love it. Our guys on our bench were excited.”
As mandated by the NCAA, all leagues must play a five-minute, five-on-five overtime if the game is not decided by the end of regulation. If there is still a deadlock following the five-on-five extra frame, the game goes down as a tie in the eyes of the NCAA, but leagues may do their own format following the five-on-five period in order to sort out league points.
For both men’s and women’s games, Hockey East and the ECAC only do the five minutes of five-on-five overtime, and mark the games down as a tie if there is no decision at the end of 65 minutes of action. Meanwhile, the AHA, CHA (AHA women’s affiliate), NCHA, WCHA and Big Ten all revert to a five-minute, three-on-three overtime and, if necessary, a shootout if the extra frame does not decide things.
“Obviously, three-on-three is something that should be looked into,” BU senior captain Patrick Curry said on Monday at the annual Beanpot luncheon at TD Garden. “When you watch the NHL nowadays, three-on-three is the most exciting part of the game. For me personally, playing in [three-on-three] is really fun.”
“I think it would be a good way to get rid of the whole tie thing in the league, and bring a little more excitement at the end of the game, especially when you’re tying a team – it’s usually a pretty good game.”
Jan. 25’s tie with the River Hawks was a nail-biter, especially in the third period of regulation with Curry tying the game up late. With a hard-fought game that saw chances and big saves at both ends of the ice, it feels like games like last Saturday’s deserve a winner, and deserve better.
I asked Brian Durocher, head coach of the BU’s women’s hockey team, about his thoughts on overtime in Hockey East after his team skated to a tie with Merrimack on Friday Jan. 24. Durocher noted that his wish is for continuity around the conferences.
“I’m a fan of doing the same thing,” Durocher said. “I don’t have a problem with four-on-four, or even three-on-three. What bothers me is different leagues do different things. I’m still a little bit of a traditionalist [in regards to shootouts], where you have the five-minute overtimes and if it’s a tie, it’s a tie.”
“What I don’t like is the idea of looking at [different leagues] and the box scores are different. Nobody understands exactly what everybody’s doing, so I’d like it just to be consistent. It’ll be another topic of conversation, and don’t be shocked if something changes.”
At the Beanpot luncheon, I had the chance to speak with some more Terriers and even Boston College head coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Jerry York. The longtime Eagles’ bench boss said that he had mixed feelings about a potential change, noting the entertainment of different formats, but also keeping in mind the importance of league points and standings.
BU graduate forward Alex Brink said he sees both sides of the argument, saying he understands why some coaches prefer the tie, but also thinks a different format would be fun to watch. Senior forward Gabe Chabot agreed with his coach and captain, preferring a change in the current format.
In the crease, graduate netminder Sam Tucker said he does not care much for a specific format, saying he’s only worried about making saves at the end of the day.
Obviously, revamping overtime will take time and will not happen overnight. However, a five-on-five extra frame can be downright bland and tough to watch, especially where 60 minutes of five-on-five, without factoring in power-play time, is not enough to decide games in some cases.
As O’Connell said, “anything but five-on-five.”