Steelheads perfecting the art of the shootout

Seven of Idaho’s 19 games have been decided in extra time ... How does it work?

clangrill@idahostatesman.comDecember 5, 2013 

They can be exciting. They can be maddening. Fans seem to love them. At least one coach (Idaho’s Brad Ralph) hates them.

One thing’s for certain:

Shootouts decide a hockey game when overtime can’t.

“I think it’s a fun way to end the game for the fans,’’ Steelheads goalie Pat Nagle said.

Idaho beat Stockton 6-3 on Wednesday night — without OT or a shootout — but only Ontario has gone beyond regulation in the ECHL more times this season. If the trend continues, shootouts could have a big impact on the Steelheads’ record.

THE RULES

The ECHL uses a shootout if a five-minute, 4-on-4 overtime doesn’t decide the outcome.

Five shooters from each team alternate taking shots (one shooter versus the opposing goalie in each round) until a winner is decided. If the shootout is tied after five rounds, it continues in a sudden-death format until a winner is decided.

The shooter takes the puck at mid-ice and the puck must continue to carry forward momentum toward the goalie until it is shot. There is one exception: a spin-around move is allowed.

Coaches don’t need to submit a list of shooters prior to the shootout. They can choose different players as the rounds go on, and Ralph said he will often base his decision on who had a hot hand in the game.

He doesn’t choose the same players every game. “But we do have an idea of who has a track record of success,” he said.

THE RESULTS

Idaho is 2-2 in shootouts this season after going 3-6 last year. The Steelheads lead the ECHL in shootout goals (11) and are third in shootout percentage (.500).

Those numbers are of little solace to Ralph.

“You just kind of throw your hands up,” the second-year coach said. “It’s out of your control. You’ve battled hard for 65 minutes and now it’s a stupid bounce that ends the game. I’m not a big fan of shootouts, never have been.”

Maybe he has a lingering bad taste in his mouth from last season, when Idaho converted 8-of-43 shootout attempts and its conversion percentage (.186) was fifth-worst in the ECHL. Idaho went 0-for-24 in shootout attempts in a period between November and March.

THE SHOOTER

Every player has his own strategy, and most have a go-to move or two that they’ll use.

Some will skate back and forth across the ice as they approach the goalie, hoping for an angle.

Then there’s William Rapuzzi’s strategy.

“I pretty much skate as fast as I can,” the Steelheads forward said. “That’s not really normal. I’m about the only guy in the league that takes that approach. It’s not normal, but maybe that’s a good thing, because goalies aren’t used to seeing that.”

So far, so good, anyway. The rookie is 4-for-4 in his young pro career.

But don’t expect his teammates to pick up his unconventional strategy.

“Guys give me grief,” he said. “I think they’re scared for my safety. There’s been a couple of times after I shot that I almost took a pretty good spill.”

THE GOALIE

Idaho’s Josh Robinson said fans will look at him one of two ways after a shootout.

“You’re either the hero or the goat,” he said.

If nothing else, it’s a great way for a competitor to get the juices flowing.

“You have a chance to go one-on-one with the other guy to win the game,” Robinson said. “It’s exciting, and I do enjoy doing them. It’s fun to make that last save to win the game.”

Nagle said some goalies will study opponents and try to pick up tendencies.

“But, for me, I’m almost better off if I don’t know what they’re going to do,” he said. “Sometimes you assume, and they do something new and you look like a goof. I’ve been there before.”

THE FUTURE

If some hockey honchos had their way, the shootout would be used less.

NHL general managers met last month, and Detroit GM Ken Holland in the past has proposed having five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime followed by five minutes of 3-on-3 before going to a shootout. The issue will be revisited in March when the GMs meet again.

Prior to coming to Idaho, Ralph coached in the Southern Professional Hockey League, which uses a 3-on-3 overtime. The system opens up the ice and creates more scoring opportunities, resulting in fewer shootouts.

“I loved it,” he said. “It was fun to draw it up with two forwards and one (defenseman), or two D-men and one forward. Deciding the combination of players was exciting.

“Fans loved it. I’d fully support the 3-on-3. I think if (the ECHL) ever went to it, they’d never go back.”

Even so, shootouts would still likely be used to decide some games.

And if crowd noise is any indication, fans would be OK with that.

“There’s pros and cons,” longtime Steelheads season ticket-holder Sherril Gipe said. “But, all in all, it’s pretty fun. There’s a lot of hollering, and a lot of booing when the other side is shooting. … For the fans, in general, I think they like it.”

Chris Langrill: 377-6424

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