Prompted by COVID-19 restrictions, Hockey East went to a single-game format for each round of the men’s and women’s tournaments last season.
In previous years, the preliminary and quarterfinal rounds sometimes involved best-of-three series, although there were times when the preliminary round involved a single game.
The league announced that it will follow last season’s playoff blueprint with a single-elimination format throughout.
Every team will qualify for the tournament in men’s and women’s play. Hockey East had limited the tourney field to eight teams during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
The women’s tournament had always been an eight-team format, but the men’s side had included all teams.
“This new format for the Hockey East tournament gives all of our student-athletes the chance to compete for a championship, which is undoubtedly the most exciting part of the season,” Hockey East Commissioner Steve Metcalf said. “Hockey East is the most competitive conference in college hockey, top to bottom, and this new format will highlight the importance of every game during the season for players and fans alike.”
Hockey East Associate Commissioner Brian Smith said because there are 11 men’s teams, they have to play an unbalanced schedule, so it’s not fair to exclude teams from the postseason.
Some teams will play a more difficult schedule based on which teams they face three times and those they play twice.
Smith said single elimination makes more sense financially because first-round and quarterfinal games traditionally don’t attract large crowds as they are often held during spring break.
“This has been two years in the making. We want to try it out for a while. We want to get a good sample size,” Smith said.
On the men’s side, the top five seeds will earn first-round byes and the preliminary rounds will have the sixth seed hosting No. 11, No. 7 entertaining No. 10 and the eighth seed home against No. 9. Those games will be played on March 9, 2022.
Hockey East will re-seed after the first round so the top three seeds will host the first-round winners, with the top seed entertaining the lowest-seeded survivor in one quarterfinal and so on. The fourth seed will host the five seed. The quarterfinals will be on March 12, 2022.
The Hockey East Men’s semifinals and championship game will return March 18-19 to TD Garden in Boston after a one-year hiatus.
The Hockey East women’s tournament will feature all 10 teams.
Seeds 7 and 8 will host seeds 10 and 9, respectively, in the opening round on Feb. 23, 2022, while the top six seeds receive a bye into the quarterfinals. After re-seeding, the top two seeds will host the winners of the opening round while the No. 3 seed will host the sixth seed and No. 4 will host No. 5.
Semifinals will take place on March 4, 2022, and the championship is set for March 5, 2022, with the championship site to be announced at a later date.
The winners of both tournaments will receive the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
UMaine men’s coach Ben Barr said some of his fondest memories as a player at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and as an assistant or associate head coach at five Division I programs came during three-game series.
But he also said single elimination could be intriguing, with “really interesting games like you see during March Madness. Anybody could win it.”
Upsets would be more likely in a single-elimination format, especially in a sport where one player, the goalie, plays such an important role.
Smith said even if a potential NCAA Tournament team gets upset in the conference tournament, one loss isn’t going to be that damaging to that team and wouldn’t be as detrimental as two losses to a low-seeded team.
“There’s a million different ways to look at it,” Barr said.
“We did it this year and everyone liked the format,” UMaine women’s head coach Richard Reichenbach said. “More teams will get to experience a home playoff game.
“It will create the competition in league play to earn the bye to be a top-six team and play rested in the quarterfinals. We have had great parity in recent years in the quarterfinals and that should continue with some highly competitive play-in games.”