Posted November 16, 2006 03:45 pm - Updated November 16, 2006 04:21 pm

Hockey Shootouts: Good for the game or unfair gimmick?

Sports fans love the hockey shootout. Even the most die-hard hockey fans have a hard time denying it has its moments. One-on-one, shooter versus goalie with the game on the line. A split second of excitement with the spotlight on the stars. You've no doubt seen the movie where the little underdog kid wins the big game in a shootout with the trick move his granddad or somebody taught him. That's it, exactly what the NHL was trying to capture when it instituted the shootout in place of ties in regular-season games following the disastrous lockout a couple of seasons ago. After all, no one who pays good money for a ticket to a sports event wants it to end in a tie, right? The shootout has sparked debate. Those for it argue it is great entertainment with unmatched suspense and thrill, a back-and-forth ride of emotion. It is fast, simple and delivers outcomes. It re-emphasizes the central goal of the game: to get the puck in the net. Fans love watching goals. And it prevents teams from letting up and settling for a point and a tie. The shootout guarantees a winning team and two points. Those against the shootout argue that it doesn't keep with the integrity of the sport. Hockey is supposed to be a team game, emphasizing passing and skating skills over individual talent on a series of breakaways. It can punish goaltenders who otherwise deserve not to lose. A goaltender can effectively make 45 outstanding saves in a 0-0 tie, then lose because of a couple of free breakaways. Some have compared the shootout to a home run contest to end a tied baseball game, for example, or quarterbacks throwing a football through a tire to break ties on the gridiron. Also, purists will argue that sometimes in hockey a tie is warranted. Both teams deserve the point and neither deserves two. It also complicates standings and records, with shootout losses and wins replacing ties. You may find it surprising that although the Augusta Lynx are 3-0 in shootouts this season, coach Bob Ferguson isn't the biggest fan of the shootout. "If you're the team that comes from behind and scores a late goal to get a point, you leave the arena feeling OK about it," Ferguson said. "But if you're the team that gave up the lead, and the other team gets two points (in the shootout), it's a frustrating feeling. "Hockey's always been a team sport. (The shootout) takes the team concept out of the game. Not to mention, so many points now are determined by it, especially in a schedule like ours with so many division opponents. Those extra points given out in so many of those games become so important that it's almost - you don't want to use the word unfair - but it can decide playoff spots. You sometimes can feel like your playoff positioning is decided by those extra shootout points, and it's frustrating at times as a coach." Shootouts are frustrating at times for coaches, perhaps, and disappointing for fans of the losing team, always, but one thing they are never is dull.