BOSTON — The current Hockey East tournament format will probably be changed after next season when Notre Dame joins the conference beginning with the 2013-2014 season.
That was the word from Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna on Saturday night before the Hockey East championship game at the TD Garden.
“My sense is that we will expand the field,” Bertagna said about the number of teams involved.
Hockey East currently has 10 teams and the top eight qualify for the tournament.
There is a best-of-three quarterfinal series pitting the top seed against the eighth seed, two vs. seven, three vs. six and four vs. five. The teams are reseeded after the quarterfinals and the semifinals are held at the TD Garden in Boston pitting the top seed against the lowest-seeded survivor and the second highest seed against the third-highest seed.
That is followed by a championship game.
The league has followed that format since the 1995-96 season.
Bertagna pointed out that Hockey East is the only one of the five conferences that doesn’t allow all of its teams to participate in the conference tournament.
In Atlantic Hockey and the ECAC Hockey League, all 12 teams make it and the top four teams receive first-round byes while the bottom eight play a best-of-three series. After the first-round series, the teams are reseeded with the lowest seeded survivor playing the top seed and so on in their quarterfinal series. That leads to single-elimination semifinals and a championship game.
In the 11-team CCHA, the top five teams earn first-round byes and await the winners of the series pitting 11 vs. six, 10 vs. seven and nine vs. eight to complete the quarterfinal round match-ups.
In the 12-team WCHA, all the schools are involved in a best-of-three first-round series with No. 1 facing No. 12 and so on.
Following the first-round games, the lowest seeded survivor meets the third highest remaining seed and the fifth highest plays the fourth highest in a one-game showdown in St. Paul, Minn. The highest two seeded survivors earn byes.
The next night, the highest seed faces the lowest seeded survivor and the two middle seeds square off in the semis in St. Paul leading up to the final.
Atlantic Hockey holds its semis and final in Rochester, N.Y., Detroit is the host site for the CCHA semis and final, and the ECAC holds its final four in Atlantic City, N.J.
Maine coach Tim Whitehead likes the idea of expanding the Hockey East Tournament and said most of the coaches in the league feel the same way.
“Northeastern didn’t make our playoffs and you also have the number four and five teams beating up on each other,” said Whitehead.
Northeastern finished ninth and had five wins over NCAA Tournament-bound teams and three one-goal losses to Boston College, the top seed for the tourney.
Whitehead said the fifth seed in each of the last three seasons was an NCAA Tournament-caliber team but got eliminated in the league quarterfinals and missed the NCAA Tournament.
He was referring to the 2009-2010 UMass Lowell team that was beaten in overtime in game three of their quarterfinal series with Maine; his Maine team two years ago that got swept by Merrimack and this past season’s Merrimack team that took Maine to a third game before losing 2-1.
“[The current format] hurts our league because we’ve had an opportunity to put five teams in the NCAA Tournament the past three years,” said Whitehead.
He also said the coaches are hoping Bertagna can add a 12th team for the 2013-2014 season so one team won’t have an off weekend from league play.
“We’ve been talking to people,” said Bertagna. “But we haven’t had a meeting [on expansion] since the fall.”
The most often mentioned possibilities on various college hockey websites are Atlantic Hockey teams Holy Cross and UConn and ECAC members RPI and Quinnipiac.
Bertagna said there are a lot of league requirements a prospective 12th team would have to meet, such as scholarships (18), a quality facility and so on and he noted that the school would also have to abide by its own institution’s bylaws such as gender equity.
If they don’t add a 12th team, the 11-team league will reduce its number of league games from 27 to 20 so each team would play two games apiece against the other 10 teams instead of three times.
That would give teams 14 nonleague games they could potentially schedule.
Whitehead said because of Maine’s location, scheduling that many nonleague games, especially with a limited budget, could be problematical.
“If we got a 12th team, we’d at least have 22 league games or they could branch off into two six-team divisions and you could play teams within your own division three times and the teams in the other division twice. That would give you 27 league games,” said Whitehead.
Bertagna said teams scrambling for nonleague games could play extra games against Hockey East teams that wouldn’t count as league games.
For example, Maine could play a nonleague game against New Hampshire in Portland or Manchester, N.H. Or an extra two-game series at alternating home sites.
“We’re already looking into that,” said Whitehead. “We’d like to play at least three games a year [two being league games] against New Hampshire and four [two league games] a year with Vermont and UMass because of the distance involved.”