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Austin Heakins (9) drives to the black teams goal in Bird Arena Friday night MATT STARKEY|FOR THE POST

Hockey: Strategizing a shootout

On Oct. 15, when Ohio was tied 4-4 with Robert Morris (Illinois) heading into a shootout, Ohio coach Sean Hogan kicked freshman defenseman Jake Houston in the rear.

“You’re going first,” Hogan told him.

Houston was nervous. He didn’t know what to do. He aimed his shot at the goalie’s five hole, but couldn’t score. Ohio went 0-for-3 and lost.

“I hate shootouts,” Hogan said. “You battle all game long and then it comes down to a breakaway contest.”

It can be hard to see back and forth games decided by shootouts, but the entertainment value of a shooter and goalie battle is a plus for most fans.

Per the American Collegiate Hockey Association 2016-17 Manual, all non-elimination games that are tied after five minutes of four-on-four overtime will go to a shootout. Ohio has only been in nine the past five seasons (with more than 200 regular season games).

Shootouts are recorded as a tie for both teams, but the winning team gets an extra point in the standings. It’s not a hefty payoff, and as a result Ohio doesn’t dedicate significant practice time to shootouts.

Typically once a week, at the end of a Wednesday or Thursday practice, the team holds a breakaway contest. For most players, it’s the most relaxed and fun part of the day’s skate.

Hogan uses the practice results to help pick players for his game situation shootout lineups. The players aren’t told ahead of time who will be picked.

“We (the coaches) usually don’t know either,” Hogan said. “Because when it gets to it, it’s kind of who’s playing well in the game, too.”

Freshman forward Tyler Harkins was next up against Robert Morris (IL) after Houston. Harkins said the thrill of going solo against the opposing goalie is exciting, but he’d prefer to see games decided by both teams rather than a few players.

“I think it shows off individual skill,” he said. “I don’t think it shows what the team has.”

Regardless, rules are rules and shootouts are part of the game. So when the referee blows his whistle and the skater picks up the puck at center ice, the outcome of the game is reduced to the skater with the puck versus the goalie trying to stop him.

Hogan said he allows his shooters to make their own decisions on the breakaway, but there’s one thing he wants to see: speed.

On TV, the NHL’s best — such as Chicago’s Patrick Kane and Washington’s T.J. Oshie — often skate in slowly, lull goalies to sleep, then use dizzying dekes and quick hands to flick the puck wherever they want it.

“But we’re not Patrick Kane,” Hogan says, laughing. “Don’t try to do what they’re doing. That doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work for us.”

Hogan prefers to see his players skate straight toward the net and shoot when the goalie retreats into his crease.

Houston said he generally sticks to three simple moves — five hole, backhand and a switch from backhand to forehand — that he picks between based on his read of how far the goalie is from the crease, his stance and where his stick is.

Harkins uses the weekly practice time to try out his moves. He said there are a few he’s working on that he likes.

“A shooter can’t reveal his secrets,” he said grinning.


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