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BLOG: Is Game 7 a Myth?

Friday, May 30th
BLOG: Is Game 7 a Myth?

Voice of the Idaho Steelheads, Will Hoenike, checks in time to time here on IdahoSteelheads.com with his thoughts on the team, the game and life in general ...

The Kelly Cup finals are set.  Alaska and Cincinnati.  One of those two organizations will put its name on the Cup for the third time.  I usually get asked by someone, “so, Will, who ya got?”

I’m not sure who I’ve got yet, I’ll respond.  But I’ll take the winner in less than seven.

Why, you ask?

Simple.  Because none have gone seven yet this season.  Fourteen playoff series in the books, exactly zero have reached that apex of hockey nirvana – Game 7.  Three sweeps, none have reached 3-3.

Some may cry, “fluke!”

Okay, let’s look at the 2013 Kelly Cup playoffs.  Fifteen total playoff series, two reached a Game 7.  Same as the number of four-game sweeps.  Both Conference Finals and the Kelly Cup finals itself were over in five.

Keep going … 2012.  First round was a best-of-5 and two of the eight went the distance, including Idaho’s upset victory over the Ontario Reign.  Every series – all four of them – in round two, the Conference Semifinals, which reverted back to best-of-7, was over in five games.  Every series ended 4-1.  Both Conference Finals … 4-1.  Kelly Cup Finals?  4-1.  You’re reading that correctly.  After the first round in 2012, each and every series, in a best-of-7 format, was over in five games.

Add it up and, in the last three years, you have two series that have reached a seventh game.  Out of 36, 34 have been over in six games or less.  That’s 94 percent.

Specific to Idaho, the team’s all-time record in Game 7’s in the ECHL (dating back to the 2003-04 season):  0-1.  That one came back in the first round in 2006, when the Steelheads were defeated by Las Vegas.

In the meantime, the team has participated in six best-of-5 series during its ECHL tenure.  The squad has gone the distance in three of those six, winning them all.

Begs the question … why are we playing best-of-7’s?

Let’s play the “hypothetical” game.  Say the first round this season was a best-of-5 (assuming for sake of conversation that everything plays out the same way).  Idaho’s first-round series is a dramatic, five-game victory for the Steelheads while Alaska sweeps Las Vegas.  No Monday-night, 4OT marathon in Game 6, followed by one day off, followed by a travel day and then a best-of-7 against an Alaska team that has been sitting around for a week since dispatching the Wranglers.

From a purely hockey perspective, which scenario produces the better series?  I’ll argue for the hypothetical, where there’s less wear-and-tear on Idaho (or Colorado), advancing on to face a rested Alaska.  As is, Idaho, who was already missing three of its top players in Tommy Grant, Anthony Nigro and Ryan Button due to injury, was on fumes.  Result?  A five-game series loss where the players gave everything they had left to give.

The NHL makes it work with more days off in between games.  Better rest time (not to mention, those guys aren’t flying coach on regional prop planes or sitting on busses for hours on end to get to those games).  The recently-completed Eastern Conference finals between Cincinnati and Greenville featured six games in nine days.  Now Cincinnati had one day off (Wednesday), a travel day (yesterday) and they open the Kelly Cup Finals in Anchorage tonight.

There is a beancounter element to this.  Has to be.  It’ll take a certain amount of revenue in the postseason to pay the bills.  You’ve got to pay and house players, pay for travel, pay arena staff, etc.  So, say you’re Team X that gets disposed of in the first-round of a best-of-5 where you perhaps only got one home date.  Early rounds of the postseason typically don’t draw well in the ECHL.  You probably just lost money.

Aye, Shakespeare’s Hamlet once famously said, there’s the rub.  Money.

I’m talking in the context of hockey first.  What allows us, as a league, to put our best foot forward?

Hey, I’m not begrudging the accountants in this league.  They’ve got a job to do.  Teams don’t dive into this with the end goal of losing money.  But, to play devil’s advocate, aren’t we cannibalizing the better teams, making them play more, longer, drawn-out hockey, to placate the teams that get sent home from the prom early?  Aren’t we sacrificing the ability to best-showcase our best teams at the end?  And is it really relevant if we never get to the seventh game anyway?  We’re arguing about how to split up the treasure in the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow only to discover that there is no pot of gold.

Some would say there’s a simple answer to the money question – if you don’t want to lose money, don’t get creamed in the first round.  If only it were that easy.  Ask Derek Laxdal if he thinks his 2010 Idaho team sees a different outcome from the 2010 Kelly Cup finals if he has goaltender Richard Bachman (called up during the Conference Finals) and forward Tyler Spurgeon (injured) in the lineup.  Can’t really predict that.

I know a lot of coaches that won’t be desperately in love with the idea of best-of-5’s.  You stub your toe early, especially if you have home-ice advantage, and your margin for error just went away.  Flip side of the coin, though, is that taking care of business is rewarded.

Finding an equitable solution might be as elusive as seeing an ECHL Game 7 with your own eyes.

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