NCAA Hockey: Overtime, tie games continue to climb
Ties were a rarity during the early years of college hockey.
Fewer than five percent of college hockey games ended in deadlocks during the first 40 years of the UND men's hockey program, which started in 1946-47. UND never had more than three in a season during that span.
But those times are long gone.
The new era of college hockey features lower scores, more parity and a lot more overtime and tie games.
On Nov. 20, there were 23 Division I men's college hockey games -- 13 of them went to overtime. That was the most in a single night since College Hockey News started tracking online statistics in 2000. It is likely the most ever. Six days prior to that, 11 of 19 games went to overtime.
This is a trend that has been in the making.
In each of the last 10 college hockey seasons, at least 10 percent of games ended in ties, more than doubling what happened from 1947-87.
This season is on pace to continue that trend.
There have already been 59 ties. Northern Michigan leads the way with five ties in 14 games -- more than a third of the Wildcats' contests thus far. Seven other teams have four ties.
That's why college hockey conferences are looking at new methods of breaking ties and keeping fans entertained.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference has been the leader.
It is the first college hockey league to introduce 3-on-3 overtime. It comes after a standard, NCAA-mandated five-minute, 5-on-5 overtime session. If nobody scores in that overtime session, the game officially goes down as a tie, but the teams play a 3-on-3 overtime for five minutes for conference points. If that goes scoreless, it goes to a shootout for conference points.
So far, two NCHC games have gone into the 3-on-3 session -- and the NCHC has received strong feedback.
"I do think it's important," NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said. "I realize hockey traditionalists and purists would disagree with me. However, if you've been in a venue where there's been three-on-three overtime -- I was in Miami last week when they played Omaha -- and it is great excitement.
"The feedback that we've received from social media, from the teams, the fans, the athletes is that they loved it. I think there's always a little more positive feeling and taste in fans' mouths when the victories happen on home ice."
The Big Ten Hockey Conference uses shootouts for conference points, but the other four leagues -- the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, Hockey East, Atlantic Hockey and the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference -- haven't adopted any tiebreaking policies.
WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said his league has discussed it, but the coaches have been against it.
"It doesn't mean that it won't be brought back up," Robertson said. "It's something that I will explore with institutions and head coaches going forward. I'm not going to say we're not going to do it, but the majority didn't want it and wanted to play the traditional game.
"I know there are fans and sponsors and alumni that may want to see a 3-on-3 overtime or a 4-on-4 overtime scenario on a regular basis. That's something we will certainly monitor, take a look at and explore."
Robertson said he frequently communicates with Fenton and will get feedback from the NCHC commissioner on how the tiebreaking ventures worked in his league.
UND hasn't played a 3-on-3 overtime yet, but has been in two shootouts since the league adopted that in 2013-14.
UND coach Brad Berry said he likes the 3-on-3 idea, pointing to the excitement it has created in the NHL, which adopted 3-on-3 for the first time this season.
"I think that's the most exciting part of the game when you get to overtime," Berry said. "You have more than one player decide a game for that extra point. You get playmaking, creativity and some structure. I like what we're doing as a league.
"As a coach and a fan, I tune into NHL games every night and I look to specific teams to see how they do their 3-on-3. Sometimes, it's slowing down the puck for possession and being very opportunistic in waiting for a chance. A lot of teams run-and-gun and there are chances back-and-forth."
UND has worked on the 3-on-3 a few times in practice, even though it hasn't been in any games to this point. If the current trend of overtimes and ties continue in college hockey, it probably won't be long before the fans in Ralph Engelstad Arena see it.
"I closely monitor the WCHA and there's a lot of competition inside the conference," Robertson said. "These teams are all evenly matched. That's one of the reasons you're seeing the ties in my estimation. The teams are getting better from top to bottom and there's not a lot of separation in the teams that should win or shouldn't win."