Between the Lines: Oops! We Did it Again

You ever had something you thought was resolved, only to find it rear its ugly head again just when you least expected it?

This past weekend, there were a number of glorious “preseason” games, and tournaments like the Maverick Stampede and Ice Breaker have become great early-season events. Add in the Punch Imlach Showcase in Buffalo, where North Dakota and Michigan staged a great game in the final, giving us a glimpse of what it will be like in HSBC Arena in April.

But in Omaha, at the Maverick Stampede, this silly little issue reappeared after we all thought it was dead. After about four years in the closet, the monster came roaring back out.

Somehow, many years ago, tournament organizers got it in their heads that, if a game was tied, the teams would play five minutes for the sake of NCAA records, and then proceed with more overtime in order to determine advancement in the tournament. So, if the game remained tied after five minutes, both teams, they figured, would get a tie, and then go on to decide who advanced in the tournament.

No matter how many times the NCAA told them otherwise, this issue would repeatedly come up, until finally, one year, the NCAA said, “Whoa, this is ridiculous. Where in the world are you getting this idea? A win is a win, and a loss is a loss.”

So the men’s ice hockey rules committee finally put language in the rulebook that helped clarify this issue. The bottom line was, to decide advancement in a tournament, you could either play five minutes followed by a shootout, or just play straight overtimes. If you play the shootout, that doesn’t count in the record, but regular overtimes do. Therefore, there was no reason to play the first five minutes and then a 20, because either way, the result was going to count.

Unfortunately, Nebraska-Omaha people never got the memo. This weekend, when Colgate and UNO were tied after regulation, they played a five-minute overtime in their first-round game. When the score remained tied, the game went to a 20-minute overtime before the Mavericks prevailed.

This was, apparently, following the Maverick Stampede tournament handbook, which UNO coach Mike Kemp says was approved by the Hockey Coaches Association and the NCAA three years ago when the tournament started.

“We had set a protocol up,” Kemp said. “We had gone to the league and the NCAA, and the hockey coaches association three years ago, and that was the protocol they gave us to use. We continued to use it not being aware that they had changed the protocol.”

But, really, there was a memo. And the protocol never changed.

“We’ve had meetings, we’ve sent memos out, we’ve talked to them at the convention. … But they don’t understand it. Just look in the book,” said Joe Bertagna, who was chair of the Rules Committee for four years until his term recently expired, and still leads the American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA).

“The coaches association has no jurisdiction over this, it’s the Rules Committee. I think what happens is, promoters take over the event management. I don’t know in this case, but whether it’s the marketing guy, the assistant AD, running all this stuff, and the coach is just preparing his team. And now it comes to tournament time and the promoter says, this is what you’re doing, and they don’t stop to think whether this is allowed.”

Colgate coach Don Vaughan was under the impression at the time that his team would get the tie. He is apparently not going to protest the fact that his team won’t, but it’s still amazing that the impression exists.

“These guys, they’ll say, ‘We agreed as coaches to do it this way,'” said Bertagna. “Well, it’s not your prerogative to agree as coaches, the rulebook is the rulebook. If you don’t like it, change it, but once it’s there you go by the rule.”

The rule book is relatively clear on the matter. Section 6-52 deals with “Tie Games” and gives the procedure for the normal five-minute overtime. But it says there’s an exception, which is Section 6-54, which addresses “Tournament Competition.” There, the rulebook gives two options for dealing with overtimes during tournaments: either play 20-minute overtimes to conclusion, or (for regular-season tournament or consolation games only) play five minutes followed by a shootout (with both teams credited with a tie).

Nowhere in the rule book is there an allowance for “mixing and matching” a 5-minute overtime with a 20-minute overtime.

You wonder why the referees didn’t say anything.

Somehow, this all started in the early ’90s. According to one story, Minnesota newspaper writers helped perpetuate the impression after the Gophers lost a tournament game to Lake Superior at the Mariucci Classic. After a few more of these issues arose over the years, the issue was clarified.

Then, it suddenly happened again, at the 1998 Ice Breaker, in a game between Ohio State and Boston College. The teams remained tied after a five-minute overtime, and BC won in the 20-minute session.

Again, clarifications and memos were sent out.

“A year ago, we revisited all the overtimes [again], because some of the [Division III] minigame procedures were illegal,” Bertagna said. “With a lot of fanfare last year we went through the whole thing on overtimes, and people just don’t read the book, or they’re giving the decision to a games committee or something and it doesn’t include the coaches.”

Hey, you know, worse things have happened. UNO is a fledgling program, it wasn’t around for most of these discussions about clarifying the rules. They want to start a great new tournament, they get a little bad information, and there you go. It’s not the end of the world.

But this does rank up there with other annoying perpetual myths that won’t go away — the tournament selection process is subjective; the Eastern bias; the Western bias; lack of fighting causes more stick fouls; frogs cause warts; and so on.

All that said, even though the rule is pretty clear on what to do, it could be more explicit about what not to do. There is a section in the back on rules clarifications, and it would be a perfect place for this to go.

In other words, the rule book does not say that a “count-the-result-after-5-minutes, play-another-20 scenario” is allowed, but I’d like to suggest it add language explicitly stating it’s not allowed. There also seems to be a misconception that Section 6-54 regarding “Tournament Competition” only deals with postseason tournaments, but that’s not true.

How about this: “This rule covers in-season as well as postseason tournaments when overtime is necessary to decide advancement.”

And: “Shootouts are an alternative option to decide advancement for in-season tournaments only.”

And finally: “No other alternatives are allowed. All overtime results will be counted in the team’s official record.”

That would make it pretty clear, no?

“It couldn’t be any clearer,” said Bertagna. “They don’t even look.”