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Tricky Ties in College Hockey

When is a win really a tie, and who decides?

UMD's Reece Hunt scored on a breakaway against Colgate goaltender Hannah Murphy against No. 2 Colgate. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

When you go to a hockey game, if you’re an avid fan you want your team to win. But maybe you also want to spend a little sportsmanship and pull for a hotly competitive game as a priority. In college hockey, the spirit is always on high and the rivalries make it even more fun, but sometimes we need to pause and wonder if what we see is fact, or an illusion.

When the University of Minnesota concluded its interconference rivalry series against Minnesota Duluth in early November, the Bulldogs rallied from a 3-1 deficit in AMSOIL Arena with a spirited third-period rally, which forced overtime. Nobody scored in the overtime, so the game went to a three-player shootout, which UMD won when Quinn Olson and Ben Steeves scored and UMD goaltender Matthew Thiessen stopped the first two Golden Gopher shooters, giving UMD a 4-3 victory in the game.

But that was in the view of all the players on both sides, and the 7,345 fans who saw UMD bounce back from a 5-1 loss in Minneapolis the previous evening to gain a split with their long-time rival. That’s what they saw happen in front of them, so that’s what they took home with them, even though the NCAA counts the game as a tie, for purposes of nationwide rankings.

No matter, Minnesota coach Bob Motzko treated the loss as though it had been a tie game, which is the same attitude he had after the Gophers lost shootouts against Michigan and at UMD. The fans and players know better, of course, but they also know that sometimes what you see is not what you get.

College hockey lives in its own world, and in Minnesota, we’re lucky to have six Division I programs and they participate in three of the best college hockey conferences in the country with the NCHC, Big Ten and the CCHA. Plus, we have the WCHA that is now strictly for women’s hockey. The NCAA leaves it up to the leagues to decide how to treat their ties, and they can award an important extra point to a shootout winner. But in non-conference games, it is closer to mass confusion.

You could make the case that if we as observers aren’t sure what rules they’re going by, maybe the coaches and the officials of the different conferences aren’t sure, either.

Hailey MacLeod was engulfed by her teammates after recording her first UMD shutout, 3-0. She came back to anchor a 1-1 tie in the second game. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

UMD women have strong showing vs. No. 2 Colgate
We can gather a unique bit of evidence at Duluth’s AMSOIL Arena, where the UMD women’s team last weekend was host to Colgate, the No. 2 team in the nation which brought a 12-game winning streak to the Head of the Lakes. UMD played its best game of the season, winning the first game 3-0 behind Hailey MacLeod’s first shutout for the Bulldogs.

In the second game, Colgate played much more intense. But UMD turned it up, too, and took a 1-0 lead into the third period. After their second straight strong showing, the Bulldogs seemed ready to clinch the sweep when Colgate’s Kristýna Kaltounková was penalized at 18:58 of the the third period.

A power play for the final 1:02 seemed to secure the victory. But in the last-minute scrap for possession behind their own net, the Bulldogs botched the breakout control, and the puck suddenly popped out to the right circle. Red Raiders right defenseman Allyson Simpson read the play perfectly, moved in from the right point and got her full force on a shot that MacLeod couldn’t block.

The stunning tie defied the five-minute, 3-on-3 overtime, so it was time for a shootout. But as the few fans waited for what would be the highlight of the game, the teams broke off into handshake lines and headed for their dressing rooms, and left the game unsettled at 1-1.

“It’s the choice of the home team,” said UMD coach Maura Crowell. “We don’t have to have one, and it’s up to the home team. I didn’t like the way the game was going at the end, so we chose to not have the shootout.”

St. Cloud State men’s team hosts Michigan 
Let’s switch our attention to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, with the only remaining full Olympic-size 200-by-100 foot ice surface. The Huskies had come out of a tough preseason stretch and welcomed Michigan to town last weekend. The Wolverines had earlier lost a shootout to Ohio State and beaten Minnesota in another. Michigan beat the Huskies 2-0 in the first game and grabbed a 3-0 lead in the second game. 

Colgate’s Allyson Simpson (10) scored the only Red Raiders goal of the weekend against UMD goaltender Hailey MacLeod, shorthanded with 44 seconds remaining, for a 1-1 tie that fueled a debate about mandatory shootouts. (MHM Photo / John Gilbert)

“I thought we played really good all weekend,” said St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson. “We hit a pipe and three crossbars the first game and just couldn’t put one in.”

In that second game, Veeti Miettinen scored a shorthanded goal to cut the deficit to 3-1 late in the second period, and Kyler Kupka scored a power-play goal early in the third to trim it to 3-2. With the goalie pulled at the finish, Kupka scored again with 0:07 remaining, sending the big crowd into a frenzy and forcing overtime. Five minutes, 3-on-3, and still 3-3. Time for a shootout, and each team scored. Kupka scored yet again for the winner.

“In conference play, you get an extra point,” Larson said. “In non-conference, you get nothing, but everybody on both teams and all the fans in the building knew that we won the game.”

I told Larson what had just transpired in the Duluth women’s game, where Crowell said she didn’t want to have a shootout and as home team coach, her decision ruled.

“We were told we had no choice,” Larson said. “We were told we had to have a shootout against Michigan. But here’s a crazy thing: A few weeks ago we played in Mankato, and Luke Strand, their coach, and I talked it over and said we had to agree. So we agreed that if we tied, we would have a shootout. As it turned out, we did tie the second game but they beat us in overtime.”

So, incredible as it may sound, three distinct games involving St. Cloud State’s men and UMD’s women exposed three completely different concepts of how to decide a tie game. And nobody seems to be prepared to change what they did. Well, except for UMD.

“I had long conversation with our commissioner of the WCHA,” Crowell said. “She told me we had to have the shootout and should have had it against Colgate. I told her I never understood it that way, but we’ll do it from now on.”

That’s a relief. So from now on, college coaches realize they can have the glass have full, or the glass half empty, but they no longer can tip the glass over and leave the result spilling onto the floor.

Coming up
UMD’s women, who just ran a gauntlet by facing Minnesota and Colgate on back to back series, heads for Wisconsin and a rare Saturday-Sunday series against the league-favorite Badgers. While Minnesota is at home trying to avert an upset against Bemidji State. Two other Minnesota rivals, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Thomas, will play a home-and-home series. St. Cloud State hits the road to face No. 1 ranked Ohio State in Columbus.

The men are scattered around, too, with Minnesota at Penn State for a Big Ten series, St. Thomas is at Ferris State in a CCHA series, while MSU-Mankato is at Lake Superior State in another. UMD comes back from a bye week to play host to Omaha.

The Gophers have found consistency an elusive target this season, and they found out Michigan State was for real in the Big Ten last weekend when they lost 4-3 in a shootout opener on Friday. They had a 5-3 lead at Mariucci Arena on Sunday afternoon, but the Spartans came back for two in the last five minutes to forge a 5-5 tie. This time, Jimmy Clark scored at 3:58 of the sudden-death, five-minute overtime to lift the Gophers to a 6-5 victory.

The first game? Forget it. That was a shootout, when the Gophers built leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, only to have the Spartans come back for a tie, then won it in overtime. Or was it a tie. It was both, depending on your point of view and the rules used that night.

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