When Dean Blais was coaching Fargo, he was no fan of the USHL's shootout system for determining a winner when games were still tied after regulation.
Never won them, he said, despite having an NHL draft pick in Mike Lee in goal and future high-scoring collegians like Matt Leitner and Nate Condon shooting.
“Maybe I was picking the wrong guys,” Blais said, laughing. “After awhile I let my assistant pick them. We still lost.”
But, after a three-year break while UNO competed in the WCHA, shootouts are again part of the landscape as Blais' Mavericks move into the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“I didn't vote for it,” Blais said. “I don't like it. I think winning is tough enough in our league. To try to do it in a shootout might ruin a good game for you.”
UNO opens NCHC play this weekend with a two-game series at Denver.
As a byproduct of the league's shootout system, all league games are worth three standings points instead of the traditional two. A team that wins in either regulation or the sudden-death overtime gets all three points. If it goes to a shootout, the winner gets two points and the loser one.
Coaches have noted that “clean wins,” in which the victor takes all three points, could become significant factors in the chase for the Penrose Cup that goes to the league's regular-season winner.
Whereas some teams might have been content to play for a tie and not risk a loss late in a close game, perhaps teams will take more chances.
“That could go either way,” said senior forward Johnnie Searfoss, one of UNO's alternate captains. “If it comes down to later in the season, when a team knows it really needs the extra point, they could play more aggressively. Or you could play more conservatively if you know you have the points you need already.”
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For the formulas used for determining NCAA tournament qualifiers, all games that go to a shootout are considered ties, regardless of the outcome.
So if you're trying for a regulation or overtime win that could help you contend for a conference championship, you could risk your postseason status by suffering a loss. Sitting back, picking up a point — and possibly two — in a shootout improves your conference standing but doesn't help nationally.
Confusing strategic stuff.
“I'll definitely think about it when it comes up,” said Blais, whose first UNO team, in 2009-10, played under the same scoring system in the CCHA. “But until then, we've just got to worry about our game and getting better at certain things.”
If a game goes to a shootout, Blais has some options.
Each team alternates three shooters in the first phase of the shootout. If the shootout is tied, then a sudden-death round with one shooter from each team commences until a winner is determined.
Josh Archibald gave a preview of his shootout ability, scoring on a penalty shot in Friday's loss to Cornell. It was UNO's first penalty-shot attempt in five years. Archibald scored 19 goals last year and has four this season.
Ryan Walters scored 22 goals last year and has three this season — he's obviously another prime contender.
“If I do get the chance, I have a move that I'm not really going to tell anyone about,” Walters said, smiling. “It has a twist to it, so if the goalie stops what I'm trying to do there's a backup plan — in the middle of my move I can change it on the fly. I tend to stick with that one.”
Blais said the Mavs practice the skill every Thursday, and that will be a factor in determining who might be called upon with a point on the line.
“I don't know if it carries over to Friday and Saturday, but there are some players who are a little better than others,” he said. “... You can look at goals, but you have to consider how they're scoring them: Are they shooting goals, are they rebound goals, or is it him beating the goaltender?”
Searfoss played for Blais in Fargo but said he doesn't remember the team's struggles in shootouts. Sometimes he was a shooter, he said, sometimes he wasn't.
“Everyone has a move or two they feel like they can usually score with,” Searfoss said. “On breakaways, sometimes you're going so fast you don't think about what you're doing. In shootouts, you have more time to think and it almost freezes you — makes you overthink.”
UNO and its home nonconference opponents negotiate whether a shootout will be used. Blais was hopeful the Mavs would come back in Saturday's loss and potentially go to a shootout.
“I've had my sheets ready,” he said.