Imagine watching one of the best hockey games of your lifetime. One team will take two, two-goal leads and spoil them both while trading shot for shot through 60 minutes. The two combatants will then go to overtime, once again travelling to the pinnacle of excitement in sport, making even the average viewer test their heart rate for safety. Still, after 80 minutes, no victor is determined so they flip a coin to determine who will be the championship.
Sounds ludicrous right?
That’s actually not so different than the way the IIHF determined the Gold Medal in this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship in the final game between Canada and the United States. This is because they used the shootout in order to eventually award the Gold Medal to the American team for the top under-20 team in the world.
To start with, as a Canadian, there will be an inherent bias to the argument that the shootout is and was an idiotic way to determine the champion of one of the best, most exciting, hockey games of a lifetime.
That said, this author is of the opinion that the shootout is a horrific way to decide any hockey game no matter who is playing. It’s not exactly that shootouts themselves are stupid or unexciting. They’re certainly not. No doubt there has been countless highlights extracted from the NHL since the 2004-05 lockout when the shootout was introduced with players like Pavel Datsyuk and Peter Forsberg creating their own signature moves, which players have tried to emulate throughout the years in hopes of sharing the same success.
Rather, it’s the fact that it’s an incredibly stupid and anticlimactic way to determine a hockey game. In the NHL, the shootout was introduced as a tactic to bring in new fans who wanted a fresh taste to their viewing experience and for a year or two it was a lot of fun. Instead though it became a goaltending spectacle with only 32 per cent of shooters actually scoring on their penalty shots. The excitement is in the goals and if players are more often than not not scoring, you’ll lose the excitement of the event.
Adding on to this, shootouts have little to do with how skilled a team is at hockey in the grand scheme of things. Looking at the top shootout teams through the 2016-17 season, you’ll see teams like the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks on top with the Montreal Canadiens and Washington Capitals in the bottom five. Look at the actual standings and you’ll see that top shootout performers certainly don’t align with top teams in the league.
Furthermore, taking a look at the top individual shootout performers from this season, you’ll come across names like Vincent Trochek, Aleksander Barkov, Jakub Voracek and Mark Letestu—certifiable NHLers for sure, but not exactly the world class hockey players that should be adding points to a team that may make or miss the playoffs by a few points at the end of the year.
What it creates instead are shootout specialists such as team USA forward Troy Terry who scored the Gold Medal match’s only goal in the shootout after scoring three times in a shootout in their semi-final matchup versus Russia to send them to the championship game two days prior.
“To lose that game in a shootout, especially, it’s harder than last year,” said Thomas Chabot to Toronto Star’s Bruce Arthur. “I would have rather kept going. We got so many chances in the overtime, and to get in the shootout, it’s not really something we can control. We’re 22 guys on our team, and there’s only two guys on the ice.”
I’m sure there are some no doubt that would make the argument that because there was no victor determined after 20 minutes of sudden death overtime, that a shootout was needed as a method to end the madness. But it truly doesn’t make sense.
Why stop something unnecessarily that’s so good? Why not have your cake and eat it too?