Matt Wellens column: College hockey can’t let value of 3-on-3 win derail NCAA-wide adoption of 3-on-3 overtime

It's been over 16 years since there was last a tie in the NHL. It's finally time to end the debate about ties and 3-on-3 in college hockey already.

Despite her triumph not counting toward the NCAA tournament selection process, Minnesota Duluth's Gabbie Hughes celebrates anyways after scoring during 3-on-3 overtime against Minnesota State-Mankato in the semifinals of the 2020 Minnesota Cup at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. College hockey is once again debating whether or not to break ties (something the NHL has been doing for 15 seasons now) and whether to use 3-on-3 overtime (now used across the globe in the NHL and in IIHF world championships) to do so. (File / News Tribune)

In my six seasons covering the University of Minnesota Duluth hockey programs for the News Tribune, there’s been no greater waste of the precious time I have on this Earth than the NCAA’s mandated 5 minutes of 5-on-5 overtime at the end of regulation during the regular season.

And I have the numbers to prove it.

Between the Bulldogs men and women, I’ve covered 45 nontournament regular season games that have gone into overtime. Of those, only 13 times a winner emerged from the NCAA’s mandated 5-minute OT. That’s a measly 29%.

So I was ecstatic when my colleague, Brad Schlossman, of the Grand Forks Herald wrote the NCHC is pushing to eliminate those useless 5 minutes and instead have regular season games go straight to 3-on-3 overtime, followed by an if-necessary shootout.


The NCHC’s proposal is by no means a new concept. It’s what every other junior and professional hockey league does across the globe.

The hangup — besides those Sam Adams-drinking fuddy-duddies in the Northeast — will be how games that end with 3-on-3 or shootouts impact the system used to select at-large teams and then seed the NCAA tournament, known as the Pairwise rankings.

Almost everyone agrees a 3-on-3 or shootout win should not be worth the same as a regulation victory. And when it comes to league standings, the point structure is well established across the sport to account for this. The OT/shootout winner gets two of a possible three points and the loser gets one.

So how do we convert that to a system for Pairwise, which uses a formulation known as the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) to value wins? That’s what is up for heated debate, even among those in favor of bringing 3-on-3 to the entire NCAA.

Using the traditional league standings point structure, where an OT/shootout win is worth two-thirds of a regulation win, college could give the winner 66% of the victory and the loser 34%.

Or since there are 40% less skaters on the ice during 3-on-3 than 5-on-5, award just 60% to the winner.

Hockey East, once a holdout to settling ties in any matter, has reportedly proposed a 55-45 split of OT/shootout results, which might be the compromise necessary to get those who still believe in the mythical creature known as “a good tie” on board with the change.


I understand that giving the loser of a game so much, and the winner so little, is unsettling to many, but college hockey is at a point where its overtime structure has become so confusing to fans and current and future players that something needs to be done.

The NHL has been using 3-on-3 overtime periods for five seasons now, and there hasn’t been a tie in the NHL for over 16 years (April 4, 2004) . College hockey needs to get with the times and worry about the math of 3-on-3 later.

Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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