There has been much written on how the Women’s Hockey Gold Medal game of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang came down to a shootout to determine the winner. Many who have written believe that the International Ice Hockey Federation should change the rules and allow a tie game to continue in sudden death, much like the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are handled.
Martin Rogers of USA Today referred to a shootout as a coin flip or a crapshoot. Such terms make it sound like it is simply a matter of luck, which discounts the skill of both the shooter and the goaltender. Granted it takes away from the team atmosphere of the game and in some situations, where days off between games is available, then playing overtime periods until someone scores may be an option.
In a tournament of limited days such IIHF’s World Juniors or their World Championships, that could put one team at a disadvantage if it must play the next day. The Olympics in PyeongChang will have a total of 52 hockey games (22 games played between 8 women’s teams and 30 games played between 12 men’s teams) and to get all those games played in the 16 days of the Olympics required two rinks and almost daily games.
On Friday, in the men’s hockey semifinals, the Czech team and the German team played at 9:10 in the evening (Korean time). The winner of that game would go on to play in the Gold Medal game on Sunday afternoon, but the loser had to play on Saturday in the Bronze game. That’s not a lot of time to recuperate.
In watching Team Canada and Team USA in the women’s gold medal game, Canada had an opportunity on the man advantage with under two minutes remaining in the overtime period, and they just couldn’t make it happen. Credit certainly goes to Team USA’s penalty killing players, but it was four on three for Canada, and as the clock ticked down the game remained tied.
After Team USA’s men lost in the shootout to the Czech team in the qualification round, head coach Tony Granato was asked about the shootout.
“Like I said, if you win it, it’s great. If you lose it, it’s no good. Those are the rules. We knew them coming in. We knew how the format played out,” Granato shared. “Did we like that it went to a shootout and that was what would determine whether or not we moved on or didn’t move on? No. But those were the rules. We knew those rules coming in.”
Would the loss have been any less heartbreaking to the Canadian team had it come in overtime? They gave it all they had for 80 minutes and they put some amazing shooters in their lineup against USA’s Maddie Rooney. From start to finish there was nothing about that game that wasn’t exciting, even the shootout, which is often hard to say.
René Fasel, president of the IIHF, was asked about the format and comments about the shootout that had been mentioned after that epic game.
“Look at the women’s game also that was U.S. and Canada. Eighty minutes until they come to this point. Canada had 80 minutes, eight-zero minutes to score one more goal than the U.S. Period. And it’s a game and we cannot, simply not, in a tournament to play overtime and not to go into the shootout. I mean in a tournament it’s not possible,” Fasel stressed. “You would have a team play the whole night and then maybe one day… imagine yesterday Canada and Germany playing until three o’clock in the morning and the losing team is playing today again for the bronze. It is not possible. So, you have to put an end. But it’s a game, so, I can only say maybe the Canadians can practice more the shootout, you now? We in Europe, we are so different from your country in North America. We are growing up with football, and we are used to… In football, the biggest sport in the world, it is, and they finish a final of the World Cup in shootout. I will never convince North Americans to accept that, but it is like it is.”
The teams knew going in what the format would be and what would happen if they couldn’t get a win in either regulation or the overtime period. A loss at that level is not going to be diminished in how it happens. Both of the teams played hard and gave it all they had. A shootout does not take anything away from either of them.