When South Carolina Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery first learned that the ECHL was considering copying the NHL’s new overtime rules, he knew the fans would love the format.
Coaches, well, that’s another story.
In an effort to reduce the number of shootouts and to make overtime sessions more exciting for fans, the NHL adopted a new three-on-three format for five minutes of sudden-death hockey.
A year ago, the American Hockey League served as professional hockey’s guinea pig. The first three minutes of overtime were played four-on-four, which has been the norm for the past decade in the AHL and NHL. After the first stoppage in play after the three-minute mark, the format switched to three-on-three.
The results for the AHL were dramatic.
Only 49 of the 206 games (24 percent) that went to overtime ended up being decided in a shootout. During the previous season, 178 of the 275 games (65 percent) that went into an extra period ended up in a shootout.
The NHL and ECHL took notice.
Through 80 ECHL games this season, 10 have gone into overtime and only three eventually made it to a shootout. Last season, 197 of 1,008 games went into overtime. Of those, 85 were decided in overtime and 112 in a shootout.
“I like the concept of reducing the number of shootouts,” said Carbery, whose team plays the Evansville Ice Men at 3 p.m. Sunday at the North Charleston Coliseum. “I’ve never been a big fan of shootouts and this is a way to have fewer of them. I think it’s too early to tell if the three-on-three format will have a major effect on the number of shootouts. I think the trend will be similar to what we saw last year in the AHL, but it’s still early.”
One thing Carbery can say for sure is that the three-on-three overtime format has added excitement to the game and increased his anxiety level. In six games so far this season, the Stingrays have played in just one overtime game and it lasted less than two minutes. Greenville’s Bretton Cameron scored on a power play at the 1:55 mark to end the contest.
“When it’s five-on-five, we like to be very structured and run our systems,” Carbery said. “Even the last couple of years we’ve been able to run some of our systems when it’s been four-on-four in overtime. But there really isn’t a whole lot you can do from a systems standpoint when it’s three-on-three. You just have to trust your players are going to make good, smart decisions with the puck.”
Carbery said as he experiences more overtime periods and watches what other teams do at the NHL and AHL level, he might adjust his strategy. Carbery put two forwards and a defenseman on the ice to start the extra period against the Swamp Rabbits.
“Right now, I think you put your three best skaters out there and whether that’s two forwards and a defenseman or two defensemen and a forward, it will depend on the circumstances and who we’ve got on our bench,” Carbery said. “We’ve got some very mobile guys on the blue line that can move the puck and create scoring chances. There’s so much open ice it’s really man-on-man. If you’ve got a skilled player that can skate, he’s nearly impossible to stop.”