ORONO, Maine — University of Maine athletic director Steve Abbott likes the new playoff format approved by Hockey East’s athletic directors that will see all 11 teams make the playoffs next season.
The league has expanded from 10 to 11 teams with the addition of Notre Dame.
It will be the first time since the 1994-95 season that every team will qualify for the league playoffs. Just the top eight had made it to the quarterfinals.
Hockey East will have single play-in games in 2013-2014 with the No. 6 team hosting No. 11, No. 7 entertaining number 10 and number 8 hosting No. 9 on the weekend following the regular season. The top five teams will earn byes and at least 12 days off before heading into the best-of-three quarterfinal series on the next weekend.
The league will re-seed after the play-in games.
Hockey East had been the only one of the five Division I conferences that didn’t include all of its team in its postseason playoffs.
“It’s a totally new thing for us but I think it is worth trying,” said Abbott. “You’ve seen the excitement throughout the NCAA Tournament with the single-elimination format as well as in the NCAA basketball tournament. We were looking for a way to add a little more energy as we’re adding another layer to our playoffs.”
A best-of-three play-in format would have been another possibility.
Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna said Monday “we’re hoping to get better crowds for the one-game [play-ins]” and that he is exploring the possibility of staggering the times of the play-in games so they could all be televised.
Bertagna said the format is “risky” in that a team under consideration for the NCAA Tournament could get upset in a play-in game.
He noted that since Hockey East teams are playing seven fewer league games next season (from 27 to 20), the gap between the teams in the standings will be even slimmer.
“The sixth-place team could finish just three points out of third,” said Bertagna, who also noted that the sixth-place team could be higher in the Pairwise rankings because of its success in its nonleague games.
The Pairwise rankings emulate the NCAA Tournament selection process.
Abbott said the play-in-format also gives the league more time to “better market and promote all of the quarterfinal series.”
Bertagna said the format will be reviewed after the season before deciding on a format for 2014-2015, when the University of Connecticut becomes the league’s 12th team.
Byron drafted by Penguins
Playmaking center Blaine Byron of Manotick, Ontario, who will be a freshman at the University of Maine in the fall, was chosen in the sixth round of Sunday’s National Hockey League draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was the 179th overall pick.
Byron had 12 goals and 40 assists in 51 games between Kemptville and Smiths Falls in the Central Canada Junior (A-amateur) Hockey League this past season.
Pittsburgh will retain his rights throughout his college career.
Maine coach Red Gendron said he expects Byron to play for the Black Bears this season.
Another player with Maine ties was also selected, as Boston College-bound defenseman Steven Santini was a second-round choice of the New Jersey Devils. He is the son of former Black Bear forward Steve Santini and his grandparents are Governor’s Restaurant owners Leith and Donna Wadleigh.