I have written about my dislike of shootouts before, albeit focusing mostly on the National Hockey League level. It should come as no surprise that I revisit this issue following Canada’s loss in the gold medal game to the United States last Thursday via this glorified skills competition.
I’d like to point out that I would have sincerely written this opinion piece regardless of the outcome of that game. Both teams played outstanding throughout the World Junior Championship tournament and especially in the final, and both deserved to win. But not like that.
Eighty minutes (including overtime) of end-to-end, armchair-gripping action between two of the world’s best hockey rivals. And then both sides resigned to having their fate determined by basically a flip of the coin. Thanks but no thanks.
The International Ice Hockey Federation introduced the shootout as a tiebreaking method in 1992 for the World Championships, WJC and the Olympics. And since that time it has served primarily as a thorn in Canada’s side at the international level.
Most Olympic hockey fans will recall Peter Forsberg scoring the gold medal-winning goal in 1994 in the seventh round of the shootout to crown Sweden champions over silver medalist Canada in Lillehammer. Four years later Hall of Fame netminder Dominik Hasek would play the shootout villain, stopping all five Canadian shooters (Wayne Gretzky and Steve Yzerman were strangely omitted by coach Marc Crawford) in the semifinals. The Czechs would go on to win the gold, and Canada would finish fourth.
Canada has had moments of triumph in the shootout – most notably Jonathan Toews’ performance during the semifinals of the 2007 World Juniors vs. the U.S. Toews scored three consecutive goals in three different ways, and after goaltender Carey Price stopped the final American shooter, Canada would take the game and eventually the gold.
But even being on the victorious side of a shootout, you can’t help but feeling a little guilty that the other side was cheated out of a fair outcome. Do I think the Americans felt this way after toppling the red and white last week at the WJC? Doubtful, especially when the U.S. hasn’t had overwhelming success at the international level in men’s hockey. That title was the Americans’ fourth WJC gold. Canada has won 16 tournaments.
There has to be a better way of deciding a big game like this, and the answer is obvious: Run continuous overtime until a game-winning goal is scored. Keep your precious shootout if you must for the preliminary games; sometimes there are four games a day and you need to keep the schedule rolling. Scrap the shootout for knockout games is all I ask, fans deserve a better outcome to a game.
The NHL has employed the shootout for over 10 years now, following the 2004-05 lockout. Even it has taken steps to faze it out, primarily through the introduction of 3-on-3 overtime, which has proven very popular. Yet when the post-season begins, the shootout is cast aside for good old continuous 5-on-5 if extra time is required. If you’re not going to use something to determine the outcome of a playoff game, why use it during the regular season.
I’m rambling a bit now. But the shootout novelty has long worn off for me and a lot of hockey fans.
Hopefully the IIHF and NHL return to the way the game is meant to be played beyond 60 minutes. That should not include interjecting a series of penalty shots to wrap the game up quicker than it was intended.
If I wanted to see a flurry of penalty shots decide a game I’d watch soccer. If four or five overtimes are required, so be it. That just makes the game all the more memorable and the game winner all the more sweeter.
Thanks for reading Banner Blitz and I’ll see you back here in a fortnight.
This is a bi-weekly opinion column. For question or comment, contact Dan McNee at firstname.lastname@example.org.