Turn on the sports radio station of your choice, and wait. Sooner or later someone will start whining about the NHL’s overtime and shootout situation. “It’s a gimmick,” they complain.
While the shootout may be a gimmick that has lost of bit of lustre – primarily because shooters tend to use lame, slow moving deke moves that rarely work, when shooting the damn puck would undoubtedly do the job more often – the 5-minute, 3-on-3 overtime session is a true gem.
Almost always, it’s five zany minutes of wide-open scoring chances that succeed in doing what the sport is supposed to do, namely bring otherwise dormant fans to their feet in excitement. We get to see the sport’s most skilled danglers use time and space – a rarity during full strength hockey – to arrange spectacular goal-mouth plays. We get to see goalkeepers make incredible reflex saves that are more common to road hockey than pro hockey.
The rapidly changing highs and lows, as teams fly back and forth trading chances, are rarely achieved during regular five-on-five action. Goal posts and cross bars tend to get a good workout. A shot wide at one end, almost always results in an outnumbered rush at the other end.
How is that a gimmick? Isn’t that what this sport is supposed to be all about? The day will come when four-on-four hockey in combination with three-on-three overtimes will be the norm. People will look back on the old five-on-five format and ask: What the hell where those people thinking?
Like a good hockey scrap, no one ever leaves the room when overtime is underway. And what does that tell you? Keep it going until someone wins.