The East Coast Hockey League is adding a new twist to its overtime format for the 2000-01 season.
League owners held their annual preseason meetings Saturday in Greensboro, N.C., where they approved the addition of a 4-on-4 overtime format, as well as a revamped playoff system.
The changes were recommended by league coaches, who wanted to be consistent with the National Hockey League and other minor-pro leagues which now use the 4-on-4 system.
If you're new to hockey, teams play at full strength with five skaters and a goalie. The idea behind 4-on-4 is to open up more room on the ice and give skaters a better chance to score.
Tie games now will progress to a five-minute extra session with each team playing with four skaters and a goalie. Unlike in the NHL and American Hockey League, though, the ECHL also will utilize the fan-friendly shootout if a game remains tied after 4-on-4.
Previously, tie games in the ECHL were decided exclusively by the shootout, in which each team gets five chances to score on a breakaway. If still tied after five rounds, the shootout proceeds to sudden death.
"This standardizes the way the game is played in other leagues," ECHL president and CEO Rick Adams said. "The owners also felt there is a tremendous entertainment value in a shootout, so we certainly didn't want to lose that."
The system for awarding standings points remains the same. Each team earns one point for the regulation tie, with another point awarded to the overtime winner. An overtime loss counts as a tie in the standings.
Augusta Lynx coach Scott MacPherson is one of the coaches who advocated the overtime change.
"The coaches want to follow the higher leagues," MacPherson said. "We're a feeder league to those leagues, so it makes sense."
Owners also approved a new format for the Southern Conference playoffs, a move that addresses problems like those encountered by the Lynx during last year's playoffs.
In the 15-team conference this season, the number of teams qualifying for the postseason goes from 11 to 10. In a preliminary round, the 10th-seeded team will play the seventh seed and No. 8 will face No. 9 in a two-game series. If the teams split, a 10-minute mini-game will immediately follow Game 2. The two winners go into the conference field of eight.
Under the old wild-card system in recent years, teams have encountered numerous travel and other logistical headaches.
For example, last season the Lynx won the decisive Game 3 of their wild card series in New Orleans, then boarded a bus for a 13-hour overnight trip to Fort Myers, Fla. They arrived less than four hours prior to Game 1 of their conference quarterfinal series against the Florida Everblades.
Because it also was Augusta's fourth game in four nights, the league had to get special permission from the players union to play the contest. The collective bargaining agreement between the players and all minor-pro teams limits consecutive game nights to three.
LYNX SIGN 18, 19, 20:
With training camp less than a week away, the Lynx now have 20 players under contract with the signing of defensemen Wes Swinson, Likit Andersson and forward Tamas Groschl, a native of Hungary who was drafted by the Edmonton Oilers in the 1999 NHL draft.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Groschl turned down a lucrative offer from the Oilers and played last season in the Swedish Elite league, one of the top leagues in Europe. MacPherson said Groschl has "all the pedigrees to be an NHL player someday."
Six additional players also have been signed to tryout agreements. Depending upon how many players return from AHL and IHL training camps, the Lynx will have around 20-25 players on hand when camp opens Sunday at the IceForum.
The St. Louis Blues sent former Lynx defenseman Jaroslav Obsut to their American League affiliate in Worcester, Mass., on Monday. Obsut was one of five rookie defensemen vying for three spots on the NHL roster.
Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.