Better later than never, evidentally: the Ontario Hockey League is becoming the third major junior league to install a modified no-change icing rule, as part of a series of rule changes that also includes following the NHL's lead by adopting 3-on-3 overtime.
The OHL demurred from following suit in 2005 when the NHL restricted a team from changing players after an icing. The prevailing thought, often attributed to Hockey Hall of Fame coach Brian Kilrea, was that a no-change rule would limit ice time for younger, developing players on the fourth line or third defence pairing. In the years since, both the WHL and QMJHL have adopted a no-change rule where a team cannot substitute if it ices the puck from its own zone. It may change when the puck is iced from the neutral zone.
The concern about an unknown is still present. One likely consequence is that the change might cut down on excessive icings by teams protecting third-period leads in the playoffs, which was a strong trait of more than one recent OHL titleist.
"I'm not a big fan of but I guess they do it in The Show so we need to do it too," Ottawa 67's coach-GM Jeff Brown said Friday after a 5-2 exhibition loss to the Gatineau Olympiques. "It puts, especially for these young 16-year-olds, it puts them in a vulnerable position. I think you're going to see injuries come out of it. It's different when you're talking about professionals at the NHL level as opposed to still young kids that are still developing."
Olympiques coach-GM Benoît Groulx said he had a similar concern before the QMJHL made the change. That dissipated once the adjustment period passed and he now sees it as part-and-parcel of player development.
"I think it sped up the game and it's better that way," Groulx said. "Where you can get in big trouble quickly is if you have to use your timeout. That's tricky. And you can't be in trouble quickly when you have your young guys on the ice and the other team is coming back with their top line, especially when you're on the road and the other team has the last change. It's something you can take advantage of.
"Over the years, I've realized as a coach that you get more confident and more patient with young kids," added Groulx, who coached Canada's gold-medal-winning team at the world junior championship in January. "They get used to it. They get used to face that challenge of being tired and facing a top line. I think it's part of the growth of a player. When you're in a bad situation, hang in there and find a way to get the job done for 20-30 seconds. It's good. It puts you in trouble once in a while, but other than that you adjust pretty quickly. They're doing it midget AAA in Quebec and it doesn't seem to a big issue for them."
There was some sentiment within the OHL last season to shake up the extra-time format, especially after seeing the results from the American Hockey League's adoption of a 4-on-4/3-on-3 period. The AHL saw 75 per cent of regulation ties decided by actual goal instead of a shootout, AKA the breakaway relay.
In a typical regular season, 16-18% of OHL games are deadlocked after three periods. More than half still are after five minutes of 4-on-4.
The Kingston Frontenacs and Belleville Bulls shared the OHL lead with five shootout wins last season. Kitchener and Owen Sound had seven shootout losses. Those totals could drop.
"It's exciting — I'd rather lose 3-on-3 than in a shootout," said Brown, whose team did prevail in 3-of-4 shootouts in 2014-15. "I think the shootout's stupid so I'm a big fan. It will be interesting to what kind of philosophies teams will have — whether they'll go two forwards, one defence, vice-versa. It will be interesting to see what comes out of this."
The shootout made sense at the time when the consensus in the hockey world was that ties were bad. Generally, new is always better, hence the move intended to increase the change of giving paying customers a clear outcome.
"The people paying to get in, they're coming here to see a show that's entertaining," Groulx said. "The shootout is entertaining, but I think 3-on-3 will be spectacular. You're going to see the best players on the ice, they'll be making plays. I think we'll see a lot of three forwards out there."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @naitSAYger.