A shocking revelation

There are no habs games for a few days. Everyone is busy fighting over the goalies situation. I’ve decided this was the right moment  to disclose you something important, dear readers. Sit down, I don’t want any of you to  faint because of the shock.

I like the shootout.

There, I said it.

Maybe it’s because I’ve watched soccer my whole life. In soccer, as you may know, when a game needs a winner, there’s a 30 minutes OT, then a shootout. I’m really used to that system, so maybe that’s why I consider it as a valid and legitimate way to end a game when no team prevailed.

When it comes to hockey, the critics of the shootout often say that it’s only a sideshow, that it’s not real hockey, and that it shouldn’t be used to decide a game. They say that hockey is a team sport, and that it goes against this to have the game decided only by a player and a goalie.

I disagree with that. In the shootout, you have a skater with a stick going down the ice and trying to put the puck in the net, behind a goalie with his full equipment. To score or to make a save on a shootout attempt requires skills. Hockey skills. For both the skater and the goalie, it takes the same qualities than when a breakaway happens, which is a common game situation. To me, the shootout is part of the game. Penalty shots are not very common in hockey, but they do exist. So honestly, I even think it’s less of a alteration of the game than removing a guy from each team to play OT.

“Please, no more of this, that’s not real hockey!”

Another argument against it is that it’s basically artificially manufacturing cheap highlights reels. Personally, I don’t really have a problem with that. Yes, it’s designed to put the skaters and the goalies (but mostly the skaters, this is true) in the optimal position to “make something special”. But why is that a problem exactly? Hockey is a professional sport, but it’s also an entertainment.

Then the critics of the shootout will often ask: “But if you like it so much, would you accept it to decide a playoffs game?” Of course, the answer is almost always no. Then the shootout critics will point at the apparent hypocrisy, saying “See? Even you don’t consider this legitimate enough to decide a game that really matters!”

I think it’s a flawed argument. Personally, of course I wouldn’t want to see shootouts in the playoffs. Shootouts are dramatic (I’ll come back on that later), but a game going to triple OT is something really unique about hockey playoffs. It’s one of the most exciting traditions of this sport, and there’s absolutely no reason to change it. It just “works”. The question is not “should the shootout be brought into the playoffs?”, but rather “could the playoffs style OT be brought into the regular season?” Obviously the answer is no. Then, if you want to have every game end with a winner and a loser, I think the SO is the best option. (Of course, it could be argued that we should still have ties. Personally, I had no problem with them. But that’s another issue)

But what makes me actually like the shootout, and not just tolerate it?

To begin with, I do find it exciting. To the point that I often find myself hoping for a tied game to end in the SO rather than in the 5 minutes OT. I like seeing skilled players attempt to beat a goalie without being hooked, tripped or hold by a defenseman. I like the tension and the pressure felt by one skater or a goalie who knows he has to score or make a save to give his teammates a last chance.

I like to see whether a player will choose to be audacious, bold, or to play it safe. I like to see if that boldness will be rewarded ["Oy oy oy oy oy!" is apparently the Swedish equivalent for Benoit Brunet's "Aye aye aye!"] or bite him in the ass.

I love when the shootout goes after the initial rounds, and we get to see the defensemen and the fourth liners with a chance to be the unlikely hero, or not.

But I also like the dramatic scenery that it provides. One on one. The good old duel, just like in western movies. It makes me want to play some Ennio Morricone.

Ovie really sucks at this, so I’d definitely bet on Marty here…

This kind of drama is actually the topic of a short novel written by Peter Handke, “Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter”, translated in English as “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick”.  Wim Wenders and Handke made a movie out of this in 1972, if anyone is interested (I read the book, but never saw the film).  The book is about a soccer goalie, but the tension is virtually the same in hockey. (Wooo! I’m so proud I managed to mention Peter Handke on a hockey blog… I’m such a snob!)

Of course, the drama is limited when the object of the shootout is an extra point in a meaningless November game. But as the season goes on and every point becomes more important, the tension definitely raises

I know the shootout is not very popular around the hockey blogosphere. But personally, I like it, and I even think this was a pretty smart move from Bettman and co. It already produced some pretty memorable moments, and a few highlights reel goals and saves. It’s not what I like the most about hockey, but it’s definitely something I appreciate. I don’t think this opinion makes me a lesser fan, and I hope the “holier-than-thou” attitude of some of the shootout critics will wane, because frankly, I’m a little fed up with it.

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Posted January 12, 2010 by Grrrreg in Uncategorized

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