Tony Granato in skates on ice, State Journal photo, generic file photo (copy)

Tony Granato says he would like to see college hockey mimic the NHL's 3-on-3 overtime format.


When a game goes to overtime in college hockey, you have to know where you are to know what's about to come.

In one league, a regular-season game that's still tied after the NCAA-mandated five minutes of extra time will go to a shootout. That's what happened to the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team last Saturday at Penn State.

In another, teams will keep playing with fewer players on the ice.

Hockey is the only NCAA sport whose rule book allows for different formats to be used to end a game — at least for now.

Driven by the confusion between the different systems, a push to standardize overtime starting next year is going through the NCAA Men's and Women's Ice Hockey Rules Committee.

"Yes, we feel a mandate to come up with one system," said Joe Bertagna, the Hockey East commissioner who's also the rules committee chair.

There's a catch.

"No, we don't have a clue which system is favored by people," Bertagna said.

Under current rules, regular-season games that are tied after the third period go to a five-minute, sudden-death overtime. A victory there counts the same as one in regulation.

It's what happens when the game is still tied after that five extra minutes that varies by league.

Three of the six Division I men's leagues, three of four top-level women's leagues and 17 of 18 conferences in Divisions II and III have teams shake hands and leave the ice with equal points from a tie.

The Big Ten Conference men's hockey league, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association women's group and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Division III men's league stage a three-round shootout to determine which team gets an extra league point.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference and WCHA men's leagues play up to five minutes of 3-on-3 hockey and, if still tied, a sudden-death shootout for the extra point.

Regardless of a 3-on-3 or shootout outcome, the game is considered a draw for the purposes of NCAA tournament selection if it's tied after the standard, five-minute OT.

Variations from the way the NHL handles overtime add to the confusion. In the NHL, all regular-season overtimes are 3-on-3, with a three-round shootout to follow if necessary. The winner gets an extra goal in the final score.

After Penn State won the shootout against the Badgers on Saturday, the scoreboard incorrectly showed the Nittany Lions with a 4-3 victory. Per NCAA rules, the score was recorded as 3-3.

Asked what format he'd pick if he had the power to draft the NCAA rules, Badgers coach Tony Granato said he would mimic the NHL.

"I think 3-on-3 is extremely exciting," he said. "Every time an NHL game comes on and it's going to overtime, I want to watch it. I think our college fans deserve that at some point as well."

Bertagna said the rules committee plans to survey college hockey coaches from both genders and all divisions before the offseason on their thoughts on overtime formats, but opinions in past years have been divided.

The counter to Granato's take on 3-on-3 overtime, Bertagna said, is that, because the reduced-manpower format puts a premium on individual effort, teams with fewer skilled players might shy away from supporting it.

During the last rule change offseason in 2016, the committee recommended a move to 4-on-4 for regular-season overtime periods.

It didn't quite put college hockey in line with the NHL, but it was labeled as a way to increase scoring and get more games to be decided before finishing in ties.

The change was supported by conference administrators, according to a survey, but met with wide displeasure from Division I men's coaches. The proposal was pulled off the table before a final vote.

Bertagna said the committee this time has to determine first whether enough of college hockey thinks that using reduced-manpower situations or shootouts to avoid ties is worth doing.

"If you ask that question — do you have to have a winner? — and it's 60-40 or 55-45, then that's not a mandate," he said.

It'll be a major talking point at the annual postseason coaches' convention in Florida before the rules committee meets in June.

NCAA hockey also has the complication of how overtime results are computed in the Ratings Percentage Index, one of the factors considered in postseason tournament selection.

Whereas NHL teams play 82 regular-season games, most Division I college teams schedule only 34, so the weight of an overtime or shootout result is higher.

Granato offered that if that's an issue, the regulation result could stand for the formula.

He added, however, that there's no way of pleasing everyone.

"There's always things," he said. "Friday night, we didn't have Trent Frederic because there's a World Junior tournament going on. Come February, we're going to take four (NCAA) players to the Olympics from guys that have teams, too. ...

"There's nothing going to be perfect with it. So I guess you've got to accept the imperfections to say, you know what, it's worth it. Because that's the entertainment value. Our players want to play in the NHL, and why wouldn't you want the same format and setup as in the NHL?"


Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.