An idea is only as good as the execution. Generally speaking, it feels more like a legitimate outcome when a hockey team seals a regular-season win during 4-on-4 overtime instead of during the shootout, derisively called the 'circus' or 'breakaway relay.'
The Western Hockey League is trying to foster some better play in overtime by adapting the NHL's new rule of having Zamboni drivers 'dry scrape' the ice before teams begin the 4-on-4 session. The intentions are noble, but it's turned the usual two-minute breather between the third period and OT into a 10-or-more-minute mini-intermission. That would likely not occur in NHL buildings, which usually use two Zambonis to repair the ice between periods, but it is an issue in major junior level.
Moose Jaw Times-Herald beat writer Matthew Gourlie said it "took nearly 12 minutes to do the dry scrape — two-thirds of a normal intermission — and they played 34 seconds of overtime" before a game last week. It was a similar story during an Edmonton-Saskatoon preseason game that was knotted after 60 last weekend in St. Albert, Alta.
As Guy Flaming described it:
"As we saw on Sunday in St. Albert ... Les Lazaruk, the [radio] voice of the Saskatoon Blades, timed it. It took 11 minutes and 20 seconds to dry scrape the ice. Basically, what you're doing, is you basically flood the ice but without water. You're dragging the Zamboni across the ice, cleaning the sheet, you suck up all the snow. The ice is definitely better. And there's no water so you don't have to wait for it to freeze. It's quicker than a normal intermission but you're setting up to play, at most, a five-minute period.
"... Sitting there seemed like half a hour. It was a long process. (The Pipeline Show, Sept. 3)
Off-handedly, the majority of major junior hockey buildings only employ one Zamboni; without that infrastructure, an otherwise good idea is probably dead in the water. The other drawback to giving teams an unofficial third intermission is that it takes away from the spontaneity and free-formness of the 4-on-4, which is one part of the game that is hard to overcoach.
It is not clear if the WHL has a problem with an excessive number of games that after tied after 60 minutes going to shootouts. The number of regular-season games requiring overtime has been very inelastic over the past five years. The percentage of games that go to a shootout is also trending slightly downward, although it's such a small sample I wouldn't make any firm conclusions. Somewhere around 55 to 58 per cent of OT games need the 'circus.'
|WHL extra time stats||OT||SO||SO%|
If the endgame is limiting shootouts, adopting the Ken Holland idea of splitting regular-season overtime into 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 segments seems more logical. The Central Canada Hockey League just became the latest Junior A circuit to do so; it will decide games with a seven-minute OT that starts 4-on-4 and drops to three-a-side following the first whistle after the 4:00 mark.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.