April 8, 2020

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ABOVE THE FOLD

More overtime magic a winning idea

Opinion

BOSTON – Confession time: From a purely selfish, hockey writing point of view, there's nothing I enjoy more than a good old fashioned butt-kicking. A game where the outcome is decided long before the "Kiss Cam" makes its usual appearance, the 50-50 draw has yet to happen, the Zamboni still has another intermission twirl to make and a "Sweet Caroline" sing-a-long is still in the distance.

The more lopsided, the better. The reason, of course, is that it makes it a heck of a lot easier to get my game copy in tip-top shape — no jokes, please — well before our late-evening deadline arrives. Not that I don't enjoy the occasional challenge of a white-knuckle, race-against-the-clock re-write, but the fewer the better. Helps keep the heart rate down and the grey hairs at bay.

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Andrew Copp celebrate after Wheeler scored the shootout winning goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto, Wednesday.

(TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Andrew Copp celebrate after Wheeler scored the shootout winning goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Toronto, Wednesday.

But here's another confession: From a purely selfish, hockey fan point of view, there's nothing I enjoy more than watching two exciting teams go toe-to-toe. A wildly entertaining game where I can't look away from the ice surface for even a second for fear I might miss something. The state of my sorry story be damned.

Wednesday in Toronto was one of those nights. And from where I stand, it's a crying shame that such an exhilarating, edge-of-your seat contest had to end in the worst possible fashion — a stinking shootout.

I wasn't the only one feeling that way.

"You kinda want to keep it going, it was so fun," Mark Scheifele told me in the dressing room at Scotiabank Arena, moments after his team came away with a memorable 4-3 victory. Asked specifically if he'd want to see the NHL look at adding more time, he replied "I'd be down for that."

"I’d like to see more overtime, to be honest," Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen said to reporters.

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Jason Spezza shoots on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck  during the second period in Toronto Wednesday.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/FRANK GUNN

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Jason Spezza shoots on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during the second period in Toronto Wednesday.

So here's the question of the day — why couldn't it keep going? Why does it have to end after five minutes, awarding an all-important extra point to whoever can win an individual skill competition in what is otherwise the ultimate team sport.

Put another way: Why can't we continue to have nice things that make us all collectively happy? Turns out many of us scribes who'd just witnessed the latest memorable match between the Jets and Leafs had the same thought, given the line of post-game questioning.

And to hear the way some put it, apparently you can have too much of a good thing.

"I don't think you can do it to the players. I truly don’t," said Jets coach Paul Maurice, who was quick to initially pooh-pooh the idea on the same night he suggested the wide-open, back-and-forth affair as a "free for all of fecal matter...it was a s--t show."

The Jets have gone beyond regulation 11 times so far this season. Seven of those ended in overtime, where they are 4-3. The other four went to a shootout, where they are 3-1.

"We don’t practise three-on-three past training camp because you can’t do that to NHL players. There’s a huge physical cost to going up and down the ice like that. And they’re not running 30-second shifts out there...is there another (scoring) chance coming? I don’t think physically...we’re going to Boston and we’re getting to our hotel at 3 o’clock (Thursday) morning. You add that (toll to extending OT) and I don’t think we could get through it," said Maurice.

"We don’t practise three-on-three past training camp because you can’t do that to NHL players. There’s a huge physical cost to going up and down the ice like that.... we’re going to Boston and we’re getting to our hotel at 3 o’clock (Thursday) morning. You add that (toll to extending OT) and I don’t think we could get through it." — Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice

There's no question there were some heavy legs in the three-on-three session, which went back and forth, back and forth, and somehow didn't produce a winner. It included a clear-cut Scheifele breakaway and a Jets two-on-none in which Andersen made a sprawling leg save off Jack Roslovic to bring fans to their feet and booming chants of "Freddie, Freddie" raining down. There was only one stoppage in play the entire time.

"It was nuts. There were so many opportunities at both ends. I couldn’t believe the game didn’t end in overtime," said Jets forward Mason Appleton, who watched in awe from the Winnipeg bench.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was some of the youngest guys with the fresher legs who seemed more keen to keep going. Just like his coach, Wheeler, at 33, wasn't exactly jumping at the suggestion.

"It's a little bit tiring. There's a lot of back and forth, so you're skating 200 feet. It's more fun going towards their net than it is going back to yours," said Wheeler.

"I'd probably feel more tired. The fans get a kick out of it. Fans probably like the shootout, too. Ultimately that's who it's up to. Three on three, you get some talent and some open ice, some pretty cool stuff happens. You're seeing more often than not the games are being decided in that overtime, so that's a good start."

Jets fans watch the Winnipeg Jets' play the Toronto Maple Leafs' in Toronto, Wednesday. Despite the physical toll on the players, NHL fans enjoy the wide-open nature of 3-on-3 overtime.

(TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Jets fans watch the Winnipeg Jets' play the Toronto Maple Leafs' in Toronto, Wednesday. Despite the physical toll on the players, NHL fans enjoy the wide-open nature of 3-on-3 overtime.

Indeed, this particular breakaway contest was one of the better ones you'll see, with all kinds of drama.

Jason Spezza started it with a goal for the home team, and Kyle Connor was stopped. Advantage Toronto. Mitch Marner could have really put the pressure on Winnipeg, but Connor Hellebuyck came up big. And then Patrik Laine did a Patrik Laine thing, getting the entire hockey world buzzing with one of the most ridiculous, effortless wrist shots that beat a stunned Andersen from long distance.

The star powered continued, as Auston Matthews scored on a beauty, and Scheifele responded in kind, in his home province, by keeping the Jets alive.

After William Nylander was denied by Hellebuyck, the game was fittingly on the stick of the heart and soul of the Jets. And Wheeler delivered a big-time goal on a big-time stage, recognizing it too with the authoritative chin-strap flip, visor pop and "let's get out of here with two points" gesture to his teammates.

Great theatre, for sure, in the centre of the hockey universe. But still a stupid way to send everyone home. Would a few more minutes of overtime — let's say a maximum of 10 is put on the clock — really have hurt the game? I say it only would have helped it.

It sounds like even Maurice might be open to eventually changing his mind, based on the latest display he witnessed.

"Specialness comes out with the three-on-three. You don’t see a lot of 2-on-0s in a game where you make a save. Or breakaways. But there are special players making those plays. There’s lots of skill on both teams that will make it exciting," he said.

"I didn’t care for three-on-three when it came in but I think it’s outstanding. If you’re going to spend money to come see a game, somebody should win and somebody should lose."

Add a few more minutes of overtime and I suggest every hockey fan would win.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

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