Long overtimes reflect NCAA hockey’s lack of offense

We’ve all heard it in the college hockey game: There has to be a way to score more goals.

Last weekend, goals weren’t necessarily at a shortage as playoff hockey got underway in the three Eastern conferences — Hockey East, ECAC Hockey and Atlantic Hockey. Air Force and Harvard each put up six goals on Friday. Union dropped a seven spot on Saturday and Notre Dame followed with seven on Sunday. And of course, there was Air Force’s 10 goals on Saturday to total 16 for the weekend.

But while that was all happening, there were multiple games that went long stretches without goals. None was more notable than Friday’s Notre Dame-Massachusetts game which went 111 minutes, 44 seconds — between the final two seconds of the second period and the 11:42 mark of the fifth overtime — where neither team could score.

That game became the longest in the history of college hockey, surpassing Quinnipiac and Union’s marathon of 150 minute, 22 second marathon from 2010 by 80 seconds. But before the weekend ended, three games were added to USCHO’s list of the 50 longest games in Division I men’s history. A double-overtime game Saturday afternoon between Merrimack and Northeastern, won by the Warriors 2-1 to clinch the series, is the 27th-longest game in history. Later that night, Holy Cross beat Niagara 2-1 in three OTs in what is the eighth-longest game overall and longest in Atlantic Hockey history.

A weekend such as this is rare. March 10 and 11, 2006, produced four games that are now on the list of the 50 longest games, but of those, the longest was only 94:30, between Bentley and Army, the 31st-longest game.

The 2008 postseason probably produced the most bonus hockey with games on the weekend of March 7-9 ranking 12th (Yale 3, Rensselaer 2 in 3OT — 105:40) and 13th (Omaha 2, Alaska 1 in 3OT — 104:22). That season produced five games total on the top 50 list.

But possibly the most telling statistic in reviewing the top 50 longest games list is that 38 of those 50 games occurred since 2000. Better said, on March 8, 1997, when Colorado College beat Wisconsin 1-0 in four OTs, a game that lasted 129 minutes, 30 seconds, it broke the record for longest game all-time that had stood for almost 29 years, since North Dakota beat Minnesota 5-4 in 102 minutes, 9 seconds. Since that Colorado College-Wisconsin game 18 years ago, 12 other games have been longer than the 1968 affair and three of those games have surpassed the CC-Wisconsin tilt.

The story here rests simply on how difficult it has been to score. On that top 50 list, only two games happened before 1980, when college hockey was a wide-open, offensive affair. Only two games in the ’80s and seven games in the ’90s appear on the list. Long story short, no matter what the officials in college hockey are doing to create more offense, we’ll never reach the levels of the ’90s, ’80s or prior. Todd Milewski last week chronicled how offense continues to go down despite ongoing rules changes aimed at increasing offense.

Don’t read into this as a personal complaint. I love tight-checking offense, defensive systems and better-trained goaltending. I also love watching from afar these marathon games. But certainly know that whatever anyone tells you, it’s harder than ever to score goals in college hockey. And all best efforts aren’t going to change that any time soon.

1 COMMENT

  1. The lower scoring games are counterintuitive. The technology in the one piece composite sticks can make an average shooter into Bobby Hull. However, the D-1 goaltending is remarkably good, defensemen make better decisions with the puck in their own zone, and many teams buy into the defense first system.

  2. Bigger, faster, stronger. Most D1 players have a year if not two of juniors under their belt before they commit. Pretty rare to find an 18 yo freshman on a roster for every game.

  3. I’m not sure these OT games correlate with overall offense around college hockey. It could just be that none of the teams involved is very good: 25, 29, 33, 45, 51 and 58 (out of 59) in RPI.

    There are nineteen teams averaging more than three goals a game, and only seven teams averaging fewer than two goals a game. While there are no teams this season averaging more than four goals a game, there were only four teams in 2000–2001 (for example) that averaged more GPG than Michigan is this season (St. Cloud led with 4.10). Ironically, Michigan will need to win its conference to get into the national tournament.

    OTOH, the “improved defense and goaltending” argument is compelling. Even teams with high-power offenses win with defense. One obvious example is the championship teams at Boston College: it was the quality of the defense that allowed the offense to be always attacking. In seasons where the defense wasn’t so good, the attacking offense left the defense exposed and allowed easy goals for the opposition (for example, vs. North Dakota in the 2005 East Regional and Colorado College in the 2011 West Regional). On the flip site, think back a few years to those Western Michigan teams that scored tons of goals (2000-2001?) but couldn’t stop anyone on defense—how far did that get them?

    A fine recent example of defense winning championships is Yale a couple years ago. Watch the championship game and notice the outstanding stick work by the Yale defense—breaking up passes, knocking the puck off the puck-carrier’s stick, etc. (I don’t mean hack-and-slash stick work!).

    Subjectively, it seems to me that officiating has gotten tighter (better) than it was ten or twenty years ago. Back then I found the WCHA nearly unwatchable because of the lack of real defense—the league’s officials appeared to have forgotten to read the parts of the rule book that deal with obstruction, so “defense” was little more than holding and interference. This led to a lot of offense but the games were not interesting to me.

    I wanted to say something about improved goaltending but I forget what. I was thinking about the 55-save game by the Notre Dame goaltender a couple weekends ago, and how it’s no longer just the “star” goalies like Marty Turco and Ryan Miller that have that sort of game—something along those lines but I’ve lost the idea. That said, I wouldn’t have an issue if the NCAA placed restrictions on the size of goalie pads.

    • Smaller goalie pads gets my vote for most urgent rule change.
      It’s a change that wouldn’t change the flow, play, or skills of the game at all, but would probably result in more goals.

      • “Probably result in more goals”? Doesn’t sound like a legit argument. Goalie pads are fine, 38×12 inches is a reasonable height, plus I doubt adding (or removing, depending on what side of the argument you’re on) a couple of inches would generate more goals. I think goaltending has evolved over the last 15 years, even more so from when the butterfly was a “new” idea. There’s plenty of goal scoring elsewhere, maybe the issue is that there’s so much parity in the league.

        • Speaking of the butterfly position the majority of goalies use now, it is no secret that the way to beat them is by shooting for the high corners. By doing that, more shots are missing the net. It would be interesting to see stats comparing shots to actual shots on goal now to what it was 15-20 years ago.

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