This series is a rematch of last weekend’s NCHA championship game. Wisconsin-Superior triumphed on a what was described as a “miracle” shot by Kris Wilson from the red line that caught the upper left corner of the net 17:27 into overtime.
The Yellowjackets have the NCHA title, but the Green Knights still got the No. 1 seed in the West, on the basis of an in-region overall record of 23-2-2.
In this case, the difference between being No. 1 and being No. 2 was huge. With a 6-3 east-west split, the NCAA decided to have the mid-week play-in game in the West, between third seeded and MIAC champion St. Thomas and the No. 2 seed Yellowjackets.
Wisconsin-Superior won the first-ever Division III play-in game, 2-1, on Wednesday, setting up a showdown with St. Norbert for a spot in the Division III Frozen Four.
The NCAA’s decision to put the play-in game in the West, as opposed to pairing the fifth and sixth seeds in the East is controversial to say the least. While the committee won’t officially comment, it seems clear that reducing travel played a role. If the East had the play-in game, then one team would have to fly west for the quarterfinals, followed by at least one and most likely two teams flying for the Frozen Four. By putting the play-in game in the West, the survivor of this series will probably be going east next weekend, the only team needing to fly in the tournament.
According to St. Norbert coach Tim Coghlin, fairness was sacrificed.
“This is the worst view of this tournament from the West that I have seen in the 16 years that I’ve been associated with college hockey,” he said.
“Tell the No. 2 and 3 seeds in the East that they have to be in a play-in game next year and see what kind of reaction you get.”
But, according to Coghlin, the east may never have to deal with that a problem like that, especially with new, more stringent site selection criteria.
“Based on this, we’ll never have the Final Four in the West,” he said. “Never again. Besides, the new facilities rules that are in place, basically, we’re the only team that can host, so it’s only an option anyway if we’re in the mix.”
Besides the pairings themselves, there are other problems as a result of the NCAA decision. Due to the play-in game being played on Wednesday, this quarterfinal series will be played on Saturday and Sunday during the evening, as opposed to Friday and Saturday night, which was anticipated long ago.
“They wanted us to play at 1 in the afternoon both days,” said Coghlin. “But the best we can do is 5 o’clock.
“Even with that, we have the high school state championships here (at Cornerstone Community Center) this weekend. We had to move 16 games, and we don’t even have any practice ice on Friday. Neither team does.
“That took a little bit of work, to say the least.”
Coghlin is trying not to have all the chaos affect his team.
“I really can’t expend energy worrying about it,” he said. “I have to get ready for this weekend.”
Which brings us back to hockey. Coghlin must prepare for a two-game series and possible minigame against a Wisconsin-Superior team that defeated his Green Knights last Saturday on a fluke goal in overtime.
“We lost on a weird goal,” he said. “A shot from the red line that kind of knuckleballed in.
“I was proud of the way we played on Saturday. Both teams were exceptional.”
And, from Coghlin’s perspective, there’s a silver lining to the controversy.
“At least we’re at home, ” he said. “And we don’t have to win three games in five days (like Superior does).”