Tournament format up for debate
Notes: BC's York on the brink of historic victory
Over the years, the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Tournament has seen its share of formats.
It started in 1948 with the first NCAA Men's Ice Hockey tournament as a four-team single-elimination tournament. In 1977 a fifth team was added to the field and a first round game was played on home ice. In 1981, when the bracket was expanded to eight teams, the first round games were played on home ice and were two-game, total-goals series with the winners advancing to a single-elimination finals site. The format stayed the same until 1989 when the first round and quarterfinals were changed to best of three series on campus sites before moving to play single elimination at a predetermined finals site. The current format of predetermined sites and all games single elimination was put in place in 1992.
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"Our current setup provides a lot of challenges," said Tom Nevala, chair of the Division I Men's Ice Hockey Committee and senior associate athletics director at Notre Dame. "You need to find buildings that are neutral sites, have NHL ice and ideally are within close proximity to the host school's fan base. Right now for the most part, we really need the host to qualify if we are going to have good attendance and atmosphere at our regionals. In an effort to increase attendance, the NCAA has been working with the hosts to try and make tickets more affordable but the nature of neutral sites and non-traditional game times works against us a bit."
Although, there have been five fairly major format changes in the first 65 years of the tournament, there have been none in the last 20. The ongoing debate about championship format has become more active during the last couple years.
"Personally, I would like to see us move to an on-campus best-of-three series format for the first round," Nevala said. "The top seeds would host regardless of size of its building. Right now we do it at the conference level and it works very well. There are upsets even with the home ice advantage and the atmosphere for everyone involved would be better. We have such great campus facilities that are such a part of the fabric of college hockey, it's a shame that the national tourney isn't played in them."
So does Nevala see it happening any time soon?
"The coaching body is so set on having the regional games at neutral sites that before the committee would ever propose something like this we would need to work with them to try and get everyone on board," Nevala said. "Hopefully we can put something together that they would feel comfortable with. It's really hard for anyone with an objective view to say what we are doing now at our regionals is great, so we need to try and do something with them because a great tournament should be our goal."
Regional sites for the next two years have already been determined so the earliest any change could happen would be for the 2015 championship. The 2013 regionals are at Grand Rapids, Mich., Manchester, N.H., Providence, R.I. and Toledo, Ohio. The 2014 regionals will be held at Bridgeport, Conn., Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Paul, Minn. and Worcester, Mass.
"It's just my opinion, but hopefully we can get something worked out in the near future to get to campus sites," Nevala said. "In the interim, we need to focus on improving the experience for the participants and fans alike. The Frozen Four is such a phenomenal event so we need to find a way to make the regional experience a better one."
• Boston College head coach Jerry York heads into this weekend looking to become the winningest coach in the history of college hockey. He has 923 wins in his 41 seasons as a head coach at Clarkson, Bowling Green and Boston College, just one less than Michigan State's legendary former head coach Ron Mason. The Eagles travel cross town to face rival Boston University on Friday night and then the two teams face each other again at BC on Saturday with what could potentially be the record breaking win.
• Besides Boston College who has won 10 in a row, Niagara is likely the hottest team in college hockey. The Purple Eagles are on an eight-game unbeaten streak and a six-game win streak. During the six game win streak, Niagara has four shutouts, not allowed more than one goal in a game and outscored its opponents 22-2. Junior goaltender Carsen Chubak leads the nation with a 0.99 goals against average and a .970 save percentage. They face Sacred Heart, who has only been shut out once in 12 games, in a weekend series.
• Three coaches head into the weekend looking to hit the 200-win mark for their career. Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder needs just one win against Sacred Heart to notch his 200th victory. Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore needs a two-game sweep to hit the mark as they travel to Minnesota State Mankato. Meanwhile, Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle needs a two-game sweep at Western Michigan to hit the double century mark.
• Thanks to the National Hockey League lockout, North Dakota is the top hockey draw in all of North America. UND is averaging 11,730 fans through six home games in the 11,634-seat Ralph Engelstad Arena, more than any other NCAA, American Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League or Canadian Hockey League team. No other NCAA team is averaging more than 10,000 fans per game, and the only other team in North America averaging at least 10,000 is the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL).
On Saturday night, Army will honor former hockey player, Officer Representative and athletic department supporter, Major Tom Kennedy, who was killed in action in Afghanistan last August. ... Four has been the magic number for RPI lately as the winning team has had four goals in six of its last seven games. The only game that wasn't was a 7-3 loss with the goal differential being four.... Notre Dame faces Lake Superior State this weekend, the first time in its last 12 games that they haven't played a ranked opponent. ... Ferris State and Michigan will square off this weekend for the 100th and 101st time in a series in which the Wolverines have a 67-28-4 edge. ... St. Cloud State Junior forward Nic Dowd posted his fourth game winning goal of the season on Nov. 24. Dowd leads the WCHA with GWGs and is just one GWG away from the school season record of five. … Miami is 5-0-1 against Alaska Fairbanks in their last three trips up north and have won four straight overall in the series and seven of the last nine meetings as the two square off this weekend in Fairbanks. ... The Yale Elis have won three consecutive games against ranked teams and are now 4-0 overall against ranked teams this season. ... RIT is 15-6-30 in overtime games at the Division I level and a remarkable 9-0-17 in the extra frame since Oct. 24, 2009. That last overtime loss came to Air Force. The Tigers are back in action on Sunday night with a single road game at Air Force. ... Minnesota-Duluth has not been shut out on the road during the regular season in almost five years (2-0 vs Bemidji State on Jan. 5, 2007), but has been held scoreless at home over that same stretch on six occasions. ... North Dakota's Danny Kristo and Colorado College's Rylan Schwartz face off this weekend as they are tied as the active NCAA point leaders with 123.