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4-on-4 overtime proposed for NCAA hockey

The NCAA Men’s and Women’s Ice Hockey Rules Committee has recommended a significant change to the overtime format of collegiate hockey.

During its meeting June 7-9 in Indianapolis, the committee recommended all NCAA regular season games be played with an overtime format featuring four-on-four play for five minutes.

If a game still is tied after the overtime period, the committee also approved an experimental rule in which teams would skate three-on-three for five minutes and then use a sudden-death shootout to determine a winner. Conferences can choose whether they want to implement the experimental rule.

The proposal will not impact postseason tournament games, including conference and NCAA championships, which will continue to use a five-on-five, sudden-death format played in 20-minute periods.

The proposed rule will not become official until it is approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which is scheduled to discuss ice hockey rules changes during a teleconference July 20. All proposals will be distributed to the membership for comment and feedback.   

“In our review of the game, it is clear that goal scoring is continuing to trend down,” said Tom Anastos, chair of the committee and head men’s coach at Michigan State University. “After a thorough discussion of the overtime process, and seeing the success experienced by the National Hockey League and others using four-on-four, we believe this change will be a positive step for NCAA hockey. Our committee is charged with finding a balance in making changes that we believe will have a positive impact on the game, yet respect the traditions of the sport. We feel the changes we have adopted meet those objectives and will enhance our brand of hockey.”

In developing the proposal, the committee met with conference commissioners as well as the four NCAA hockey championship committees meeting at the same time. The Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Committee has indicated some adjustments would be made to the Rating Percentage Index criteria to award some credit for a team that loses in the overtime period. Any change to the selection criteria would have to be approved by the Division I Championships Oversight Committee.

The National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Committee plans to review the issue further because its meetings were concluded before the rules committee had finalized its proposals.

The committee also spent significant time discussing rules it felt need to be enforced. While the committee does not believe a significant culture change is needed, several areas were noted that require attention and heightened enforcement.

“There is a general sense that the level of enforcement in some areas has slipped a bit (such as impeding players along the boards),” Anastos said. “Some tactics have crept back into the game, and we are instructing officials to tighten up some specific areas.” 

The committee also proposed moving the hash marks on the faceoff circles in the offensive and defensive zones from the current 4 feet to 5 feet, 7 inches so there is more separation between players. This new width will be a preferred distance, which allows flexibility in compliance. However, in NCAA championship competition the wider hash marks will be used.

Other rules recommendations include:

  • Officials and players must wear helmets anytime they are on the ice with the exception of during the playing of the national anthem.
  • A coach’s challenge will be required for video replay to be used to review goals relating to offsides, except for the last two minutes of the game and any overtime periods. Officials will be able to review offsides during the last two minutes of the game and all overtime periods. In postseason tournaments, all aspects of the video replay criteria will be used, including offsides, without the need for a coach’s challenge.