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Commentary: The NCHC and WCHA voted 18-0 to keep 3-on-3 OTs. So why not keep them?

NCHC logo on display at the Target Center. File photo by Brad Elliott Schlossman

Often times, the hockey world finds ways to experiment with rules changes before implementing them.

They’ll try it out in exhibition games or perhaps at lower levels.

If it works, they’ll implement it. If not, they’ll tweak it.

Following the lead of others, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association opted be the first in college hockey to try 3-on-3 overtimes.

They only counted toward league standings. The games went in the books as ties for NCAA-tournament selection purposes after the mandated five-minute 5-on-5 overtimes.

This April in Florida, the head coaches of the NCHC and WCHA were surveyed on whether they wanted to continue using 3-on-3s.

They voted 18-0 in favor.

Even so, the NCAA Ice Hockey Rules Committee has forwarded a recommendation that 3-on-3 overtimes be banned from college hockey beginning this season.

The Rules Committee wanted to standardize overtimes across all leagues. They listened to NCHC and WCHA members and commissioners testify that 3-on-3 overtimes are a hit in their leagues.

Then, the committee sided with teams and leagues who opposed it -- teams and leagues that have never even tried it.

Why?

If 100 percent of those who have tried it are in favor of it, why wouldn’t you be interested in attempting it across the board?

Think about other rules changes.

When college hockey implemented hybrid icing, did they get reviews from leagues that didn’t use it? Or were they more interested in feedback from those that did use it?

The Rules Committee could have asked the Eastern-based leagues to try it for conference points only -- just to give them a taste of it.

(Spoiler alert: It hardly changes the standings at all. In the three years that the NCHC has used 3-on-3s and shootouts, it only would have changed one thing. In 2015-16, Denver and St. Cloud State tied for second. St. Cloud State won the tiebreaker. Without the 3-on-3s and shootouts, Denver would have been the second seed. Not a single seed would have changed in 2016-17 or 2017-18.)

They could have used this data to decide if they want to use 3-on-3 overtimes in the Pairwise, too. Experts like Tim Danehy of collegehockeystats.net could show the coaches different weighting systems for games decided in 3-on-3 and how they would affect the Pairwise.

Or maybe they wouldn’t like it.

But at least they’d be able to say why it doesn’t work in their leagues.

I asked former UND star Jeff Ulmer, who has played professionally in 13 different countries, whether he’s aware of any leagues that don’t use 3-on-3 overtimes in the regular season.

“Still?” he asked. “No.”

If virtually every league in the world -- the NHL, the AHL, the ECHL, Canadian major juniors, the USHL, European pro, etc. -- has tried 3-on-3 and decided to keep it, if the two college hockey leagues that have tried it voted 18-0 to keep it, isn’t that a signal that it’s been successful?

Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore has been around the sport for a long time. He’s a hockey traditionalist. And he’s never shy to give you an opinion.

So, last week, I texted Serratore that I was looking to get his thoughts on 3-on-3 overtimes for a story. He called within five minutes.

“I would LOVE to give you my thoughts on 3-on-3 overtime,” he said before launching into passionate defense of them.

"I think 3-on-3 is probably one of the best changes we've had to our sport since I've been coaching 25 years. To me, it's a fan's game and it's a player's game. It's not a coaches game."

Do fans and players like it?

"There's probably nothing more awesome on the bench than before the 3-on-3," Serratore said. "You can sense the energy. They're excited. Even the guys who don't play 3-on-3 are excited. The vibe is there. There's a special kind of energy. Everyone is standing up in the building. Nobody is leaving. That right there tells me it's a home run. The fans love it. The players love it.

"We're in the entertainment business. The bottom line is this: The 3-on-3 and shootout have become part of the fabric of the modern game. To me, it's the new norm. For us not to continue this or to have it, it sets us back. I don't think we look like we're very progressive. I'm a big believer in it."

So are the players.

Prior to the NHL Draft, I asked UND incoming freshman Jonny Tychonick for his thoughts on the proposal to eliminate 3-on-3 overtimes. He hadn’t heard about it yet.

“So what happens?” he asked. “We tie?”

Yes, it’s a foreign concept to players these days. Tychonick was 4 years old the last time there was a tie game in the NHL.

We’ll find out later this month whether the proposal to eliminate 3-on-3s and the shootout will go through.

But before making a final decision, college hockey should consider that no leagues have gone to 3-on-3s and reverted back because it didn’t work.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 13th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016 and 2018, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He also was the NCHC's inaugural Media Excellence Award winner in 2018. Schlossman has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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