Pictou Advocate sports

Shootouts shouldn’t decide champions

Sports

I’m going to make my point right off the bat. Or, in hockey terms, before the puck is dropped.

I don’t like hockey games – particularly games when a championship is on the line – being decided by shootouts. At any level, in any league, in any competition.

Okay, when shootouts were first introduced by the International Ice Hockey Federation in 1992, I thought they were rather exciting. But I soon recognized them as nothing more than a gimmick, a series of penalty shots that did nothing but cheapen the end result.

The IIHF initially added shootouts for the Olympics and world championships. They spread from there, first to the minor pro leagues in North America, then to the National Hockey League. Now they’re everywhere. Even the kids in minor hockey are experiencing them.

Me? I’ve tired of them. I’m sick of them. They really are nothing but a novelty, a way to get a game over with.

Why my rant now?

Because, just three days apart, I’ve twice seen how ridiculous, how unfair, such a procedure can be to the participating teams. It’s especially true when a championship is being decided.

Everyone who follows hockey knows about the first shootout that got me on this tangent – the world junior championship game in Montreal between Canada and the United States.

That tournament – at the Bell Centre and Toronto’s Air Canada Centre – provided some of the fastest and best hockey I’ve witnessed all season. It was end-to-end action from the opening whistle to the final buzzer, in just about every contest. You couldn’t ask for more entertaining hockey from any level of players, including the NHL clubs.

The junior final – between the two North America rivals – is what most of us wanted to see. And we got it.

It was tremendous, regardless of which team you were supporting. A 4-4 deadlock at the end of regulation just added to the drama. It was time for overtime.

Again, the two rivals battled minute by minute, second by second. It was hockey at its best. Great to watch. Canada was outstanding in the extra 20-minute session, outshooting the United States 17-7. But the score remained deadlocked.

That’s when real hockey ended for the night.

Instead of taking a break and starting another overtime period, it was on to a shootout. At first, the game officials weren’t even sure how many players would be involved in the penalty-shooting competition. Three for each team? Five? Everybody?

Goaltenders Carter Hart for Canada and Tyler Parsons for the Americans, both of whom had exciting game-saving stops during the battle, continued their dominance in the shootout. Just one puck entered a net – by Troy Terry of the United States.

A “penalty shot” goal and it was game over.

Sure I was disappointed. I wanted the Canadians to win gold, as I always do in international events. I was more disappointed, though, because the championship game had been determined by a penalty shot while the other players were spectators on their respective benches.

What an awful way to conclude a dramatic game, a dramatic tournament.

Okay, you’re probably wondering where the second shootout occurred just three days later. It happened in Moncton, at a girls game, the finale of a three-day tournament involving teams from the three Maritime provinces.

I probably wouldn’t have heard of the tournament except that one of the teams, the Metro East Inferno, members of the Female Hockey Federation, was coached by my son Graham and captained by my granddaughter Claire. The team, an atom AA club, plays out of Cole Harbour Place.

So I had a personal interest, even though I didn’t make the trip to our neighbouring province. If you’re a hockey parent, or a hockey grandparent, you know why the tourney was of such interest to me, why I checked game-by-game results by phone and email.

The Inferno, I was glad to be hearing, was hot.

They won their first three matches – all by shutouts. The first came against a Pictou County-based team, the Fundy-Highland squad. The two clubs know each other as regular league opponents.

The Inferno then posted two more zeroes over P.E.I. and New Brunswick opponents. The next matchup was a win by forfeit when the Pictou County team decided to go home with a winter storm approaching the area. That kept the Inferno undefeated, qualifying them for the championship game.

The title match, against a Bedford-based opponent, was tied 0-0 after regulation and an overtime session. So it wound up – yes, in penalty shots – and the Inferno lost.

Imagine what that meant – a team that hadn’t given up a single goal in the entire tournament wasn’t the champion. That would be ridiculous in any level of hockey.

There’s no argument about who won – but it’s a darn shame it wasn’t decided in, say, a three-on-three overtime period. The Cole Harbour girls learned firsthand how the Canadian juniors felt.

Way back, when “shootout” was a new word in hockey, I thought it was a great opportunity for another thrilling aspect to be added to the sport. But I’ve really changed my opinion on that.

It seems so unfair, especially in a championship contest. That’s when they should play sudden-death until the prize has been won.

Imagine the World Series being decided by a home run-hitting derby. Imagine a basketball championship being won by a series of free throws. Imagine a football championship being determined by a series of kicks.

Maybe hockey shootouts have a place in the regular season, or even during the round-robin action in a kids tournament. But, come on, it shouldn’t be the way to crown a champion at the international level or in a minor hockey event.

Teams should win championships with real goals, not penalty shots.

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