You’re at a high school hockey game in Massachusetts this week, or any time in the next couple of seasons. The game is tied, the clock ticks down to 0:00 at the end of the third period.
But is it over? That depends.
The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association earlier this year approved a two-year pilot program giving leagues and independent teams the option of playing overtime at the end of regular-season games.
Overtime previously had been allowed to determine winners and losers during in-season tournaments, with those games officially being recorded as ties toward teams’ MIAA tournament records. The new regular-season overtime will be similar in that regard, but leagues that approve the new rule also will have the option of using overtime victories toward declaring “unofficial” league champions. However, an OT win cannot be used to determine any of a league’s MIAA tournament automatic qualifier spots.
“We feel it is a valuable addition to the game,” said Westford Academy girls hockey coach Bob Ware, who also is a member of the MIAA’s Ice Hockey and Tournament Management committees. “Most other high school sports provide an overtime procedure, as well as the NCAA and NHL have an OT format for the game of ice hockey. We are happy to see there is a process being produced for OT and appreciate the work that has been done.”
Ware added the Merrimack Valley/Dual County leagues approved the overtime trial for both girls and boys hockey. Individual leagues had until Dec. 1 to declare to the MIAA their intentions on whether or not they would be using the overtime procedure.
While a complete list of leagues that approved overtime was not yet available, a straw poll of hockey coaches showed mixed results. The Catholic Central League will be using OT for both boys and girls, as will the Catholic Conference. The Cape & Islands League gave it preliminary approval, and Central Mass. Division 3 boys hockey also will play overtime.
Coaches for Hingham, Pope Francis and St. John’s (Shrewsbury) – all of which are independent — said their teams will be using overtime in all home games, with hopes of also doing so in any road games in which their opponents have approved it.
On the flip side, Middlesex League coaches agreed to the overtime procedure, but the plan was rejected by the athletic directors. Among the other leagues that won’t be playing OT are the Bay State, Commonwealth Athletic, Hockomock and Patriot, as well as the Northeast and Central West girls leagues.
Here is how the overtime procedure will work:
- There will be a one-minute intermission at the conclusion of the third period.
- Goaltenders will switch ends for the entire overtime period.
- Teams will play 4-on-4 for five minutes.
- The team that scores first wins the game and the game is ended. If no team scores during the overtime period the game is also ended.
- The overtime period shall be considered part of the game and all unexpired penalties shall remain in force.
- Timeouts cannot be used during overtime; unused timeouts do not carry over.
The Mass. State Hockey Coaches Association had been pushing for some sort of overtime for several years. Some of the initial resistance in the hockey community included the usual concerns over safety from extended play, as well as ice time availability, but coaches believed it was important to have experience playing overtime before reaching postseason play.
“Coaching (4-on-4) when your season is on the line can be very challenging as line changes and systems can get difficult,” Ware said. “Having this as a ‘pilot’ allows us to get our feet wet in a risk-free environment.”