April 09, 2020
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Hockey East athletic directors to consider coaches’ request for 11-team playoff format

Mark Tutuny | BDN
Mark Tutuny | BDN
Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup of the University of Maine (left) fires a shot on goal against St. Lawrence University during a recent hockey game in Orono. The freshman from Denmark has had an immediate impact for the Black Bears.

Hockey East coaches have informed their athletic directors they would like to return to the 11-team playoff format next season.

The coaches, who met recently during the annual American Hockey Coaches Association in Naples, Florida, want to include all league teams and scrap the eight-team format used this season.

Hockey East had included all teams in the playoffs for five seasons before the athletic directors changed it.

University of Maine head coach Red Gendron said the vote among the coaches to include all 11 teams was nearly unanimous.

“Our principal rationale was the unbalanced schedule,” Gendron said.

Hockey East teams play 24 league games. They play six teams twice and four teams three times.

The athletic directors will vote on the playoff format at their meeting next month.

Under the 11-team format, the top five teams earned first-round byes and the bottom six played a best-of-three first round series. The three survivors advanced to a best-of-three quarterfinal series.

Last season, the postseason began with the quarterfinals.

Hockey East and the Western Collegiate Hockey Association were the only two conferences among the six in Division I that didn’t include all of their teams in the playoffs. In the 10-team WCHA, eight of 10 teams qualified.

Two leagues, the National College Hockey Conference and the Big Ten, have eight and seven teams, respectively.

Following the Hockey East quarterfinals, the two semifinal games and the championship game were held the following weekend at TD Garden in Boston.

In the unbalanced Hockey East schedule last season, last-place Merrimack College played three games apiece against league regular-season champion Massachusetts, Northeastern and Providence, who tied for second, and Boston University, which wound up fifth.

UMaine, which finished sixth, played three games against UMass, Boston University (5th), Boston College (7th) and New Hampshire (8th). UNH, besides playing three against UMaine (6th), faced Vermont (10th), UMass Lowell (4th) and Northeastern (tied for 2nd) three times.

“It’s random who you play three times but certain teams can gain an advantage and other teams can be at a disadvantage,” Gendron said. “When you come right down to it, that can lead to certain teams having a much better chance to make the playoffs because of who they played.”

He said there is no way to predict which teams might be good in a given year and that a team facing a more difficult league schedule could finish behind another that had an easier path — and fail to make the playoffs.

The other issue expressed by the coaches is the student-athlete experience.

“You want to make policies in the best interest of the student-athlete,” he said.

Players want to be involved in playoff games, Gendron said.

“It gives teams a chance to redeem themselves (if they had a poor regular season),” he said.

UMaine athletic director Ken Ralph said he can see the pluses for both playoff formats, but he hasn’t taken a stance yet on the issue.

“In some respects, our league doesn’t get to showcase some of its premier players if all the teams aren’t in the playoffs,” said Ralph, who cited All-Hockey East second-team goaltender Stefanos Lekkas of the University of Vermont as a prime example. The Catamounts finished 10th.

Ralph said another benefit of having all teams advance is that all teams might overcame poor starts or the effects of key injuries.

“There is so much parity in hockey, teams can get hot in the second half of the season,” Ralph said. “You can get a key player back from injury who can make a big difference. Look at the (NHL’s) St. Louis Blues. They were dead last in the NHL (on Jan. 1) and now they’re in the Western Conference finals.”

However, Ralph said the ADs must consider the financial impact of any potential change in policy. He pointed out that by reducing the playoff schedule by one week, it allows the coaches some scheduling flexibility.

He agreed with Gendron that the unbalanced schedule is an issue that favors the 11-team format.

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