Though an official announcement has yet to be made, it appears that the ECAC will change the format of its Division I ice hockey playoffs.
Under the new arrangement, 10 of 12 teams still qualify for the playoffs, but the ECAC will go to five quarterfinal series, with the winner of the five-six series advancing to Lake Placid for the ECAC Championship Round.
In previous years, two first-round games were played on the Tuesday night following the end of the regular season. The winners of those games then advanced to the quarterfinals, along with the remaining six playoff teams.
“This is something that I have been pushing hard for, and not because [Colgate] lost in it last year,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughn. “I’m excited about it; the Tuesday game was just not working.”
“I’m certainly for it,” said Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan. “It was a way to eliminate the Tuesday game.”
“I don’t think anyone was in favor of the Tuesday game,” said Harvard head coach Ronn Tomassoni. “It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out.”
The Tuesday first-round games have been criticized for many reasons, including lack of gate attendance, travel, and interruption of academics. The move to five quarterfinal series is designed to allay these criticisms.
“We have great fans,” said Gilligan. “But if we can’t sell out a Tuesday game, who can? These games had no crowd, and it was an interruption to the student-athlete in their studies.”
“It just wasn’t beneficial to the student-athlete,” said Vaughn. “Coming off a weekend of play and then perhaps having to travel to get to a game on Tuesday night is too much of a distraction.”
The five quarterfinal series will remain a first-to-three-points format, and the winners advance to Lake Placid. The two lowest remaining seeds would play each other on Thursday, March 19. The winner of that game faces the highest remaining seed the next day, while the two other seeds play one another that same day.
While the switch of formats has eliminated some of the criticisms of the Tuesday game, it has raised others.
“The only advantage now is finishing in the top three,” said Princeton head coach Don Cahoon. “I would hate to advance and have to play the Thursday game.”
“It certainly makes it tough to have to win three games in Placid,” said Vaughn. “To win on Thursday, and then come back and have to win Friday, and then again Saturday, it’s a lot to ask.”
“It puts a lot of pressure on the four and five teams,” said Gilligan. “You have to win three games.”
Another criticism has been that the idea is to get as many ECAC teams as possible into the NCAA Championships, and giving the top seed a supposedly easier path almost eliminates the possibility of the fourth- or fifth-place team getting into the Championships.
“Shouldn’t the top seed have every advantage to earn the bye in the NCAA Tournament to have an easier path to the Final Four?” counters ECAC Commissioner Jeff Fanter. “It may be right that the goal is to get as many teams to the NCAAs, but it is not only to get teams there, but to win a championship.”
While there are criticisms, it seems that the plusses outpoll the minuses.
“One more school gets to experience Lake Placid,” said Vaughn. “It only lends to the great college hockey experience. And if you get the right combination of teams there, the place will be overflowing.”
“It brings another team to Lake Placid,” said Tomassoni, “and that team’s fan base.”
“That helps the ECAC and Lake Placid.”