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THE SWEDES and Canadians were going into the final phase of their gold medal shoot-out Sunday afternoon in Lillehammer and John Davidson, the longtime NHL goalie who serves as CBS' chief hockey analyst, was saying, "This is the most dramatic event I've ever seen in hockey."

A few minutes later, after Peter Forsberg of Sweden scored the killer goal, over on Canadian television veteran announcer Don Chevrier was saying, "There is no more horrible way to lose a hockey game!"

Rob Hearn got a better view of it than either Davidson or Chevrier. An accountant for Babinsky Klein, the Cheektowaga engineering firm, Hearn refereed the historic game.

Hearn, in fact, was the referee for seven games, more than any other Olympic hockey official. His earlier assignments included the crucial Finland-Canada semifinal.

The gold medal game assignment is a matter of merit. The referees are graded and the best gets the big game. That was Hearn, who has been officiating at major international tournaments for five years.

"I've been to Moscow twice, Stockholm, Helsinki, Munich, Slovenia and, of course, Norway," said Hearn. What he had never done in any of those places, or anywhere else for that matter, was officiate a game which was decided by an overtime shoot-out.

"It was exciting," admitted Hearn.

But does he endorse it?

"Not to decide a gold medal," he said. "That's an awfully difficult way to lose an event like that. I would rather have seen them play on in overtime and decide it that way. I think the Swedes felt the same way."

The view here is that it was one of the most exciting climaxes I've ever seen in an Olympic event. But should the shoot-out decide a championship of that magnitude? On further review, probably not.

I do agree that it has a place in the NHL, however, just as Michael Eisner, the chief quacker for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, thinks it does.

I disagree with Chevrier that a shoot-out is the ultimate in horrible ways to lose a hockey game. I've seen a lot worse. Having the referee put the rule book in his pocket late in the game and not use it again, for instance.

Hearn called a penalty late in the third period in the final that allowed the Swedes to score the tying goal and send the game into the contentious shoot-out. "It was hooking," said Hearn. "If the player hadn't been hooked he would have skated right in on the goaltender."

That would be enough to get Hearn banned from the NHL. Imagine! Honest officiating!

There are some other horrible ways to lose a hockey game, too, such as having the inferior team clutch and grab its way to victory over the better team, or having the opposition deliberately injure a star player to drag the better team down to the level of the offending team.

There have been 101 ties in the NHL so far in the regular season. Most of them came about because the visiting team plays for a tie in the overtime period. Salvaging at least a point is the visitors' main target in the NHL.

They couldn't do that with the shoot-out. The tie-breaking device would provide the spectators with the most exciting five minutes in hockey, rather than glorified shinny, and bring the game to a conclusion, something that happens less than half the time now.

It would probably be a tough sell to the NHL mossbacks, since they are accustomed to being happy with that one point on the road. But how about giving the winner of the shoot-out two points and consoling the loser with one point?

The shoot-out would not be used in the Stanley Cup playoffs, of course. Not when the NHL just staged some of the most memorable overtime hockey in its history last spring.

The regular season shoot-out makes too much sense for the NHL to adopt it. The mossbacks won't even let them get rid of that useless red line.

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