Exhausted: OT is tough for adult pros, let alone for high school players who have no option to go to a shootout. *MCT photo
Exhausted: OT is tough for adult pros, let alone for high school players who have no option to go to a shootout. *MCT photo

For many sports fans, sudden death overtime is the most exciting component of any game. 

And that excitement is threefold when a Championship title is on the line. 

Of course, when there is a tie in Cup Match, the previous year’s winner retains the trophy. Last year was a ‘winning draw’ for Somerset and it is now up to St George’s to win it back.

But that’s cricket. In hockey, the mentality is slightly different. Players and fans expect the game to be played until a clear and decisive winner has emerged. 

However this was not the case on Saturday in Columbus, during the Ohio state Hockey Championship game between Sylvania Northview and Cleveland St. Ignatius. The game was tied 1-1 after regulation and overtime ensued. But after seven — yes, SEVEN — overtime sessions, the game still remained tied. Before the eighth OT began, officials from the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA), and coaches and administrators from both sides decided the players were simply too exhausted to continue. The result, to the dismay of players, was that both teams were named the Ohio State High School Hockey Champions.

Typically, high school hockey between two unknown teams would not attract the attention of national media, however, the decision to call the game and appoint both teams as champions has ignited a flurry of debate on whether that was the best or correct call to make. 

In a statement, the OHSAA cited player safety and went on to commend all those involved in the decision-making process.

It read: “After the seventh overtime, the head coaches, school athletic administrators and OHSAA administrators had a lengthy discussion. Many players on both teams were seriously fatigued and neither coach or school administrator objected to ending the game before the eighth overtime began.

“By national rule, there is no shootout procedure in high school hockey. While the decision is being questioned by fans, the OHSAA commends the coaches and school athletic administrators in reaching this decision together without conflict.”

While player safety is and should continue to be the primary concern at any level of sport, the question remains: why in national high school or OHSAA games are there no rules in place that limit the number of overtimes?

As a result, on Saturday, as each OT came and went, players became completely dehydrated, muscles became tense, fatigue set in and mental awareness melted away. How is an unlimited number of OT sessions permitted in high school hockey when they claim their main objective is player welfare?  

It is a complete contradiction to that objective and completely undermines the endurance of these young high school hockey players. 

Why no shootout?

The fallout from the shared championship title game has many asking why shootouts are not provisioned in national high school hockey games? The National Hockey League (NHL) adopted the shootout round in the beginning of the 2005-06 regular-season to eliminate ties. 

Simply put, if a game remains tied after a five-minute, four-on-four OT session, teams are to engage in a shootout where a winner is guaranteed. Players at any level perform with passion and drive in a championship game. 

When you apply that much effort to get to the finals, one team deserves to win outright. While we don’t expect high school hockey teams or OHSAA to emulate every NHL rule, a variation of the shootout should be provisioned for championship games. 

This would certainly put the mental and physical well-being of players in the forefront. 

Despite what critics may say, anything else than a lone declaration of the championship title discounts everything a player has worked to achieve. As a result, don’t be surprised if you hear of overtime rule changes to national high school hockey in the near future. 

Follow Bobbi Singh on  Twitter @sportschickca.