Wednesday, 20 November 2019

When They Just Played Sixty

I don't think there are many hockey fans who would disagree with the notion that three-on-three overtime hockey is some of the best and most exciting hockey that we see today. There's so much room for players to gain speed and show creativity, but there was a long period of time where overtime simply didn't exist. I know it's hard to believe, but the final horn after sixty minutes was the final horn of the game regardless of whether the two teams were tied or not. If they were tied, the two points were split with each team getting a point, and everyone moved on. That practice actually started on this day in history!

Back in 1942, every industry in North America was completely immersed in World War II in terms of having brave men and women enroll in the military for their respective countries. The NHL was no different as the men playing in the league went over to Europe as participants in the war. There were enough players from the Brooklyn Americans who went over for the US military that the league suspended the Americans franchise, thereby beginning the start of the Original Six era as the Bruins, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, Red Wings, Rangers, and Black Hawks would make up the NHL until the league doubled in size in 1967.

Because war-time travel restrictions were in effect, the NHL was forced to adapt to the various changes that the train schedules underwent, and it caused some serious scheduling issues when teams were booking tickets to their next stop via those trains if they were forced to play overtime. In short, there was concern that teams may miss trains if played overtime. If you're not aware, teams played a full 20-minute overtime period where teams could score as many goals as they liked as if it were a regular period of hockey. Sudden-death overtime wouldn't be introduced into the NHL much later. Now you see why there may have been concerns about making trains if teams were forced to play a full fourth period while train schedules were restricted.

On November 20, 1942, NHL President Frank Calder made the decision to cancel overtime periods during the regular season indefinitely while the war-time travel restrictions were in place. As The Associated Press reported in the snippet to the right, Calder made the decision to have the teams play the full 60-minute game as usual, but if there the teams were tied at the end of the 60 minutes, the game would end in a draw. Each team would receive one point of the two total points available, and the visitors would still have enough time to get to the train station so they could make their next stop in time. I know the AP said that Calder didn't elaborate, but I'm not sure what he would need to elaborate on after making this decision. It seems pretty straightforward.

Officially, the last overtime game that season was played on November 10, 1942 between the Chicago Black Hawks and the New York Rangers in a game that saw the Rangers prevail by a 5-3 score. Tied 3-3 at the end of 60 minutes, the Rangers would win their second game of the season by scoring a pair of goals in the extra period of play.

Here's the twist in this story, though. The NHL, in its infinite wisdom, didn't reinstate playing overtime during the regular season until the 1983-84 season when a five-minute, sudden-death overtime period was tacked on to games tied after 60 minutes. Why did it take 41 years for the league to re-introduce overtime in regular-season games? There is no official reason, but it seems that the owners and the league were content with games ending as ties with the two teams splitting the points.

It's a little strange to believe that train schedules were the reason for the NHL abandoning regular-season overtime for 41 years, but that's exactly what happened on this day back in 1942.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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