Hockey East’s athletic directors voted earlier this week to go to a best-of-three first-round quarterfinal series next season instead of single elimination.
That was the word from Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna and University of Maine head coach Red Gendron, who are attending the annual American Hockey Coaches Association convention in Naples, Fla., this week.
The league’s coaches met and made a recommendation to the athletic directors, who approved it.
This past season, the top five teams received a first-round bye but the teams that finished sixth through 11th had to play a one-game elimination round to move on to the quarterfinals, where it went to a best-of-three format leading to the single-elimination semifinals and title game at the TD Garden in Boston.
Notre Dame had become the league’s 11th team, which helped to prompt the format change. The old format in the 10-team setup saw the top eight teams square off in a best-of-three quarterfinal series at the home rinks of the top four seeds. The ninth- and 10th-place teams failed to qualify.
Hockey East had been the only one of the five leagues that didn’t include every team in the playoffs. Next season, the league adds the University of Connecticut so just the top four teams will receive first-round byes.
Bertagna and Gendron favor the new format because a best-of-three format gives the top seeds a better opportunity to move on and they want to get as many league teams in the NCAA Tournament as possible.
“One of the things that was different this time around is you’re going from the sixth seed having to play a first-round game to a fifth seed having to do so and, in single elimination, you would be jeopardizing a fifth seed’s chance of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament,” explained Bertagna.
In a one-game deal, a hot goalie has a better chance to upset a higher seeded team.
“But if the 12th seed wins a best-of-three series at the fifth seed’s rink, they deserve to move on,” said Gendron.
All the top seeds in the first round won this past season but two of the games were decided by one goal and another was decided by two.
Seventh seed Vermont and eighth seed Notre Dame wound up earning berths in the NCAA Tournament.
But, since Vermont finished 14th in the final Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA Tournament’s selection process for at-large teams, the Catamounts probably would have missed the NCAAs if they hadn’t beaten UMass 2-1 in the first-round game.