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New Overtime Format is “Great for the fans”

Sunday, September 27th
New Overtime Format is “Great for the fans”

BY BRIAN MCCORMACK (@BrianJMcCormack)

You can certainly never accuse a hockey fan of being stuck in his ways.

Each season and across all levels, hockey fans have seen their game undertake subtle tweaks and changes. Disciplinary rules, face-off locations, and even icing whistles have been adjusted from year to year to improve the flow of play and the product on the ice. And while many of these alterations can go somewhat unnoticed by fans after just a few weeks of the regular season, this year’s ECHL rule book features a new format that fans will be sure to love-- 3-on-3 overtime.

Like the NHL and the AHL, the ECHL will adopt a new overtime format for the 2015-16 season that will have a more profound impact on the fan experience than any change since the institution of the shootout. Teams will play five minutes of 3-on-3 “sudden death” hockey, before proceeding to a shootout if necessary.

The shootout has been modified as well, reduced to three shooters per team. That may not matter much, according to Steelheads head coach Neil Graham. He doesn’t anticipate many games ever reaching the shootout thanks to the new open-ice format.

“I’d be surprised to see them go the full five minutes, honestly. I witnessed an overtime at the Traverse City tournament, and I don’t think it lasted beyond the first shift,” said Graham, who attended one of the summer’s best NHL prospect tournaments in Traverse City, Michigan to scout the players in the Dallas Stars system. “In overtime, scoring chances happen quickly and you have to be ready.”

It’s a new wrinkle across the hockey landscape, with officials hoping to reduce the number of shootouts and have more games decided by actual team play. And while many coaches will hope to adjust on the fly, the new format won’t be a foreign concept to Graham.

The Steelheads bench boss spent parts of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons with the Augusta RiverHawks in the Southern Professional Hockey League, where the 3-on-3 was utilized. He is only three seasons removed from wide-open overtime.

“I played for a couple of years where there was 3-on-3 overtime and I don’t remember even going to the shootout,” said Graham. “Fans love it, and it’s extremely exciting.”

With six skaters on the ice, Graham expects an increase in scoring chances. A bouncing puck or a sharp-angled shot can easily spring an odd-man rush in the other direction. But how are coaches supposed to plan for a run-and-gun five minute session?

Is it better to put two play-makers on the ice with a lock-down defenseman, or should a coach put his best defensive players on the ice to guard against the odd-man rush while putting one skill player out to create chances? And does it really even matter when there is enough open ice to resemble a pond hockey game and a skilled puck-handling goaltender will have the ability to exploit even the best schemes?

Those are all questions for Graham to answer during a training camp that will already serve as a crash course for both his players and the staff.

“Right from the start of camp we’ll have intrasquad scrimmages, and we’ll implement a bit of three-on-three and see how some of the guys naturally react to it,” said Graham. “We’ll see how they perform under the systems we want to implement.”

“ and I have a few strategies in place that we’ll go over in more detail as we get closer to camp and continue to bounce ideas off each other.”

Fans have already gotten a decent look at the new overtime if they’ve watched the first week of NHL preseason hockey. Some teams have embraced the opportunity to open up the game and let the skill and speed take over. Others have tried to find a way to tame the high-risk period. It will be an ongoing experiment for coaches across the league that will without question extend well into the regular season.

Fans will only have to sit back and enjoy the newfound chaos and the excitement it brings with it.

“I think it’s terrific,’ said Graham. “It’s exciting for the league, the guys will adjust quickly, and it’ll be a lot of action for the fans.”

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