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Shootouts coming to high school hockey

VALLEY CITY -- Shootouts are coming to North Dakota high school hockey.

The North Dakota High School Activities Association Board of Directors on Monday voted 9-0 to add shootouts to regular-season boys and girls hockey games next season.

"It will add excitement at the end of games and it will add some finality," West Fargo girls hockey coach Pat Johnson said. "Am I for it? Not necessarily. You're going to have to take some time to prepare for it, because it's something we haven't done before."

Shootouts will occur if a winner has not been determined following an overtime period.

Each team will send three players to take a penalty shot on the opposing goaltender. If a winner is not determined after each teams' three attempts, the shootout will resume with a sudden death format. The next team to score a shootout goal will be credited with the win.

The shootout winner will receive two points and the loser will get one point in the regular-season standings.

"You can have a solid goaltender, and the other team can outshoot you by 30 shots, but you can still win the shootout" Johnson said. "When it comes down to the shootout, it's whose goaltender is playing the best right now. The best team doesn't necessarily win."

Eliminating ties in the regular season has the possibility to shake up regular-season conference standings, and also puts extra pressure on each team's goaltender to perform in a one-on-one competition with opposing skaters.

Johnson said coaches will now need to spend time each week preparing for a possible shootout against each team's goaltender.

"Each goalie has different strengths and weaknesses," he said. "You have to prepare to be in it each game. Now, you can't be happy just to get a tie and a point. You can actually lose out on a point if you don't win the shootout."

The Eastern Dakota Conference boys teams had 16 ties lasts season.

Devils Lake finished the regular season 6-4-6 in the league.

Only a handful of states use shootouts in high school hockey. Michigan added the format last month. The NHL adopted shootouts in the regular season in 2005-06.

Softball to have 2 divisions

The activities association also approved by a vote of 8-2 the split of softball into two divisions beginning next spring.

The board previously balked at a split until Class B -- comprised of the state's smallest schools -- had 12 participants. Class B schools, with an enrollment fewer than 325, had 11 eligible participants last year.

Class A had 18 participants last season, according to NDHSAA Assistant to the Executive Secretary Sheryl Solberg.

NDHSAA Executive Secretary Sherm Sylling said the board and the state's softball advisory committee must now move forward with a plan for a Class B state tournament.

Last year's state softball tournament had eight participants. But Sylling said the Class B tournament could initially have fewer than eight participating teams.

Johnson, also the West Fargo softball coach, said both tournaments could be played at the same time in West Fargo.

The Packers have won 14-consecutive state softball championships. The NDHSAA began sanctioning championships in the sport in 2009.

The move to two divisions could help the sport grow in North Dakota, Central Cass athletic director Justin Fletschock said.

"I think two or three schools fielded junior varsity teams because they wanted to see where they were at before they jumped in," he said. "And I think, besides West Fargo, everybody was on pretty much the same level. It's an interesting move."

In other NDHSAA news:

-- A recommendation to adopt a mercy rule for boys and girls basketball was defeated with a vote of 5-5. An example of a mercy rule is having the clock keep running when a team builds a 30-point lead or more.

-- The activities association will look further at moving the start date and championships for all spring sports back a week in an attempt to sidestep weather-related issues and to keep the winter season from bleeding into the spring season.

-- A co-op between Fargo Oak Grove and Fargo South in boys swimming was approved 10-0. Oak Grove's boys swimming co-op with Fargo North was dissolved.

Hotzler is a sports reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.