In sports, nobody likes a tie. As the old expression goes, a tie is like kissing your sister. Ties are so unpopular that the NHL switched to deciding deadlocked games by shootout in order to get rid of them. But in the SHL and its minor-league CHL, ties remain a fact of life. And the CHL’s Milwaukee Hogs have proven surprisingly prone to them this season, a situation that vexes and perplexes their coach and players alike.
Through the first 16 games of the season, the Hogs have already recorded six ties. They had a stretch last week in which they recorded three ties in a row. They’ve already tied the all-time CHL record, recorded last year by the Minnesota Freeze. They’re only one away from the all-time SHL record of seven, held by the 2016 Anchorage Igloos and the 2017 Quebec Tigres. And there’s still three-quarters of the season left to go. At their current pace, Milwaukee would finish the season with 24 ties, which would shatter all records.
“It’s almost like there’s some mysterious force that’s making us tie all the time,” said Hogs LW Gabriel Swindonburg. “None of us really understand it.”
Why has Milwaukee been so prone to deadlocked games? No one’s really certain. Historically, teams with strong defense and goaltending and lackluster offense are often tie-prone (the 2017 Tigres would be an example of this). But the Hogs don’t really fit this category. They’re roughly in the middle of the pack on both ends of the ice. They’re solidly in the middle of the pack in the CHL in scoring goals with 38, and third in GAA with a 2.41 average.
Some teams that end up in frequent ties tend to play conservatively late in close games and in overtime, aiming more to stave off defeat than to push hard for victory. Coach Robbie Lear insisted that this was not the case for his club.
“I’m all about winning,” Lear told reporters. “If I ever saw any of our guys taking their foot off the gas in OT and playing for the tie, you’d better believe they’ll be riding the pine. But our guys aren’t doing that. They’re going all out. We just keep ending up with these godawful ties.”
Sunday’s contest was a particularly frustrating example. The Hogs hosted the Oshawa Drive, and wasted little time getting out to a lead, scoring twice in the first 98 seconds of the game and making it 3-0 in the first minute of the second period. The contest appeared headed for a rout; the Hogs were on the verge of knocking Oshawa starting goalie Garrett Hill out of the game. Instead, the momentum shifted, and the Drive slowly rallied, ultimately erasing the Milwaukee lead on a tip-in goal by D Elvis Bodett in the third. And sure enough, the game ended in yet another deflating, inexplicable tie.
“The strangest part is the locker room after,” said LW Sergei Tarisov of the team’s many stalemates. “When we win, we are happy. When we lose, we are sad. When we tie… we do not know what to be.”
In an effort to change the momentum, the Hogs hosted “No More Ties Night” on Thursday. The team encouraged fans to bring in old neckties and deposit them in wheeled bins at the arena entrances; those who did received a coupon for a free bratwurst from the concession stands. Lear and his assistant coaches went tieless on the bench. During the second intermission, the Hogs wheeled out the fans’ discarded ties and set them on fire at center ice, as the crowd cheered.
The good news: The game didn’t end in a tie! The bad news: the visiting Baltimore Blue Crabs thumped the Hogs by a score of 4-1.
“At least we had a result this time, even if it was a bad one,” said Lear after the game. “I’m hoping we finally have this tie thing behind us. I love my sister and all, but I’m sick of kissing her.”
In their next game on Saturday, Milwaukee tied the Cleveland Centurions 3-3.