ORONO, Maine — Hockey East is the only one of the five leagues in college hockey that excludes teams from its postseason tournament. That will change next season, as all 11 teams will qualify, according to Hockey East assistant commissioner Pete Souris.
The top eight teams qualify for the quarterfinals in the 10-team league this season.
Notre Dame will become the 11th team next season, when the top five teams will receive first-round byes and the bottom six will vie for the three remaining quarterfinal spots.
The first round, which will be best-of-three series, will have the No. 6 team hosting the No. 11 team, No. 7 entertaining No. 10 and No. 8 awaiting No. 9.
The quarterfinals will continue to be a best-of-three series leading up to the single-game semifinals and championship game at the TD Garden in Boston.
The University of Connecticut will become the league’s 12th team in 2014-15 and the top four teams will receive byes with No. 5 hosting No. 12, No. 6 facing No. 11, No. 7 meeting No. 10 and No. 8 entertaining No. 9 in best-of-three first-round series.
The quarterfinal series will remain best-of-three, also.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead said the league’s coaches voted overwhelmingly in favor of expanding the playoffs at last spring’s American Hockey Coaches Association meetings in Florida.
He said he hadn’t been a proponent of the everybody-makes-it ideology until the last few years.
But his Black Bears were involved in the 4 vs. 5 match-up three years in a row and the three teams that lost, UMass Lowell (2009-2010), Maine (2010-11) and Merrimack (2011-12) had their NCAA Tournament chances dashed by losing those series.
“We want to give our league a chance to get as many teams as we can into the NCAA Tournament,” explained Whitehead. “With the new system, the [middle-of-the-pack] teams get to host first-round series and that can help them improve their chances of making the NCAA Tournament.”
He also said it gives the teams that receive byes an opportunity to rest their players and get healthy so they will be fresher for the postseason run.
“It should be interesting,” said Maine sophomore center Stu Higgins. “You’re never out of it and that can be a good thing. You could get some unexpected teams [making deep playoff runs]. That would be exciting.”
Junior right wing Mark Anthoine said the parity in the conferences this year validates the expansion.
The top six teams in Hockey East are separated by just five points; teams two through nine in the ECAC are separated by eight points and the top seven teams in the WCHA are just six points apart.