Last night I saw something take place in a hockey game that I haven’t seen in years.
One of the best games on the hockey calendar is anonymous to all but a few dedicated supporters in the windy, dusty town I call home. It’s the game that the hometown Thompson Rivers University WolfPack take on the hated Simon Fraser University Clan in a contest between the top two teams in the British Columbia Intercollegiate Hockey League. The BCIHL, being a private organization and not sanctioned by Canadian Interuniversity Sport or the Canadian College Association of Athletics, remains an unknown league even among the student bodies of schools that host teams.
It’s pay-to-play in most cases, and the lack of funds is apparent. Game times are either very late in the evening or very late in the morning and the atmosphere is made up of a lot of the same people you’d see at minor hockey games. Friends and parents and other members of the player’s families sipping on hot cocoa huddling under blankets because most of the heating in the fan section doesn’t work. The old Memorial Arena in Kamloops is one of those old rinks that is usually colder inside than it is outside.
The two teams that saw each other last night hate each other. One side skated in modernized jerseys ressembling the Washington Capitals, the other skating in cheap black and orange sweaters that have the school’s athletic logo stamped on, really indicate the financial inequity between Simon Fraser and, well, the rest of the league. Without the money for the extra ice time in many of their arenas, the BCIHL has a different overtime format than most leagues in hockey do today: None.
David Gore, who was the first ever player to commit to the WolfPack two years ago, tipped home a Cody Lockwood shot (Lockwood is also a first-year holdover for TRU, and has thusly been on both teams that lost in the finals to the Clan) with 1:48 to go to knot the game up at 2s. The game opened up from there, with chances at either side, but goaltenders Riley Wall and Evan Kurylo stood tall and the game ended. A few loyal fans stayed, anticipating the start of overtime, but the teams were already lining up at centre ice for handshakes as the public address announcer was going through the three star selections.
You don’t see the tie game anymore, but there’s something noble about its intent. Two teams, playing a heated game for 60 minutes couldn’t find a goal of difference between the two. Up until 1984, this is how games were determined in the National Hockey League as well. A tie game. One point in the standings, and move on, as the crowds salute both teams for their hard work.
I miss the tie in the NHL. Long consecutive overtime periods force the game to be played over several hours, and we don’t have the time for that during mid-week, regular season games. The alternatives to the tie or the long overtime, which are the shootout or 3-on-3 hockey, are so far removed from looking like the actual sport. Hockey’s bread and butter is five-on-five play, and its overtime is its marjoram: It can improve the overall product, but too much and you’re left with an odd taste in your mouth. “Was that bread and butter, or something else?”
The median number of overtime points dished out in the NHL has gone up from 9 since the first season with the shootout to 11 last season. That means that to reach “.500″ hockey, you can do it with one fewer win than you could in 2006. No other sport does this. No other sport, other than hockey, assigns different values for wins and losses on a consistent basis through its governing bodies. International Hockey prefers a system wherein three points is given for a regulation win, two for an overtime win, one for an overtime loss and zero for a shootout loss and this is an idea that’s suggested in North America if the NHL were to replace the more aptly-named loser point.
But in basketball or baseball, overtime periods are short and sweet and often end quickly (you’ll get the odd marathon game) and the loser doesn’t walk away with anything. The National Football League, to its credit, posits that if you can’t settle a game after 60 minutes, your chances of winning may as well come down to the flip of a coin, Harvey Dent-style. The NFL allows ties as well. The Canadian league and the colleges have a more “shootout-style” of game, but no losers are credited with points or part-wins.
Overtime should be something special that we rarely see. A bonus for waiting out the season until spring-time. A marathon three-or-four overtime period game in the playoffs doesn’t end with one team picking up a half-victory in the series, and why should it? You play to win in sports. Failing that, you should at least play a fair and even game where the result is consistent with the effort level the teams put into the game. The tie celebrates this, and it brings to the end the notion of the loser point, or the idea that a close, out-of-conference win in the 63rd minute is worth less than a blowout over a division rival in 60.
Make the game 65 minutes and no more. A quick, dirty, 5-minute overtime session of 5-on-5, with the loser receiving nothing. It doesn’t matter if the teams won’t open up their play in the extra frame and play for the tie as they did in the past, at least we can understand the result will be fair, and accurately reflect the result of play that happened on the ice.