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St. Ignatius-Northview hockey game called after 7 OT's: Was it the right choice?

When does player safety trump finding a winner or loser?
When does player safety trump finding a winner or loser?Gus Chan/Plain Dealer

By now everyone has heard

It has even gotten national attention from cable TV outlets such as ESPN and Fox News. The state of Ohio high school state championship game between St. Ignatius and Sylvania Northview is getting more attention every day.

Unfortunately, not for the right reasons

Saturday, March 8, 2014 will be long remembered by Cleveland area sports fans in the years to come. It was a great hockey game. A classic. A battle between a team that had been the top ranked team in the state since the season started in St. Ignatius, going against a team in Sylvania Northview that took just a 16-13 record into the final, but obviously had gotten hot in the tournament.

First, the game itself

It was the underdog that struck first. With 8:18 left in the opening period, Northview's Jake Koback found the back of the net, giving Northview a 1-0 lead. It is a lead that would hold up through the second period, and well into the third. With 7:45 left in the game, St. Ignatius would get the equalizer. After retrieving his own missed shot, the Wildcats' Beck Schultz wrapped around behind the goal and fed Danny Brogan, who put the puck in the back of the net, tying the game at one a piece.

It is a game that would stayed tied for the equivalent of another entire games, plus one period

Finally, after the seventh overtime, the OHSAA made a decision to how the game would end.

Citing player safety, the game was ruled a tie, and St. Ignatius and Northview were declared "Co-State Champions". A copy of the OHSAA's press release can be read here. It wasn't a real popular decision with the fans of both teams either. The Northview fans could be heard chanting "LET THEM PLAY" and the enormous St. Ignatius student section could be heard chanting "WE'RE NOT LEAVING!!" It was followed by the story of the game blowing up on social media, with opinions favoring playing on vastly outweighing the decision by the OHSAA

Isn't the purpose of a state championship game is to have a winner?

One would think. The decision that the OHSAA made didn't exactly sit well with players and coaches. The REALLY interesting thing is that in their press release, the OHSAA said that it was a decision that was made with the blessing of both coaches. When asked if the game could have ended in a shootout, St. Ignatius coach Pat O'Rouke had this to say:

I hate shootouts. It's a team sport. I know my boys would have kept playing. I know their boys would have kept playing too but, at some point, the adults have to step in.

There were reports of players on both teams cramping and suffering from dehydration. So, was the OHSAA right in putting player safety in front of finally getting a winner of the game? It is a much more detailed answer than just a simple yes or no. It raises quite a few questions as to what COULD have been done:

Why not just have a shootout to end the game?.... Because it is a national rule that shootouts cannot end high school games

Why not just postpone the game and start in up again the next day?.... The game was being played at Nationwide Arena in Columbus. The Ohio State basketball team had a game the next day against Michigan State, and would not allow enough time to cover the ice, and let the basketball court set.

Why not start it up again at a different location?.... Two things. First, you would have to find another rink that would be big enough to hold the fans of both teams. Almost impossible. Two, this is a state championship game, and players' families have come in and stayed at hotels around the Columbus area, and I am sure had weekends planned.

They should have kept playing. Wasn't there a game that lasted longer than this one?.... Yes, the seven overtimes these two teams played was one overtime short of the state record eight overtimes that Solon and Aurora played in 2007.

What if this game was a district game, or even a state semi-final game? Wouldn't they have kept playing?.... Yes, they would have

Unfortunately, the controversial ending of the game has taken away from what the spotlight should have been shining on:

The heart and effort of the kids playing

Hockey is a physically grueling game. Anyone who has ever played knows it. What is not being mentioned is both these teams had played their semi-final games on Friday, the day before the championship game, so the fatigue factor was probably setting in sooner than it would if the players had a day or two off. Each period in high school hockey is 15 minutes long, and each overtime is 8 minutes long. That is 101 minutes of actual game time these kids played. Throw in the 45 minutes of game time from the day before, and one can see how the kids were fatigued.

There were reports of IV's being administered during the intermissions, and players having to lift other players legs to get them off the ice during a line change. That being said, PLAYER SAFETY WAS A MAJOR ISSUE in stopping the game.

That raises another set of interesting questions: Who decides when "player safety" becomes an issue? Players? Coaches? Referees? What if a team has its two best players cramping and dehydrated, but no one else on the team? Can the coaches declare "player safety" at that point?

So, what COULD have been done?

In reality, not much. One idea that made some amount of sense was to bring the kids back this weekend, when both teams are rested, to complete the game. Sounds crazy right? Not really, because there is precedent there. In 1993, the state football playoffs were extended a week because of a pending court case. OHSAA guidelines state that any game played under OHSAA rules must come to a conclusion. So why didn't this game?

Asking the kids to play an eighth overtime, being in the physical condition some of them were in, was just not the right decision. What if a player collapsed on the ice? What do you think the backlash would have been?

NO SHOOTOUTS!.....Would anyone like to see a basketball game that goes seven overtimes decided by a free throw contest? Neither do I, and neither should a hockey game be decided by a shootout.

Here is an idea for future overtime games. Why not, after the third or fourth overtime, make the game 4 on 4 instead of 5 on 5, and increase the time between overtime periods, so players have more time to recover?

I would hate to be the OHSAA right now

It is an issue that SHOULD be a priority for them to find a solution too.

Hats off to both St. Ignatius and Sylvania Northview. Both of these teams showed what heart, determination, and effort was all about in the game on Saturday

Both of these teams DESERVE to be called state champions

It's just a shame that neither team will be able to find out who was really better