A Busy Offseason
The D-III season has yet to heat up, but there is a good deal of offseason news to relate.
Postseason Format Changes
The biggest news was the early October announcement that the NCAA quarterfinals (now referred to as the Second Round) will consist of a single game, played at four locations on Saturday, March 15. This replaces the two-games-with-possible-minigame format that has been in place since the late 1980s. The play-in game (now referred to as the First Round) will be on Wednesday, March 12.
“We had a lot of support for this from the body (coaches), so it wasn’t just a committee decision,” said Plattsburgh head coach Bob Emery, chair of the Division III Men’s Ice Hockey Committee. “Not playing on Friday gives the team winning the first round game more time to prepare.”
The minigame format is being abandoned throughout Division III. Last season, the NCHA eliminated it for its semifinals and finals, while the MIAC got rid of it entirely, all in favor of single-elimination games. Three years ago, the SUNYAC went to a best-of-three in the event that its championship series was tied after two games, not wanting the SUNYAC title to be decided in a minigame.
That means that this season, we will only see the minigame format in the NCHA quarterfinals and the SUNYAC first round and semifinals. Hopefully, this trend will continue, because the minigame format makes the first game almost useless. Win on Friday and you still have to win or tie on Saturday, which means you play the entire first game for a one-goal lead going into the second game.
The fact that stats from the minigame don’t count makes it even worse — the NCAA treats these “games” like shootouts, meaning they only exist to break ties. Some of the biggest goals in Division III history have been scored in minigames, but you won’t find them in boxscores or in a player’s stats. They’re not considered actual goals.
So now we have a minigame-free NCAA tournament. Good riddance.
East vs. West
There was quite a controversy around the decision last season by the Division III Selection Committee to put the play-in game in the West. There were three Western and six Eastern teams in the nationals last season, so making the three Western teams play down to one team that went East for the Frozen Four eliminated the cost of flying one and possibly two more teams during the championships. But how fair was that? Can we expect anything to change this season?
There are three possible scenarios for the brackets:
1. A 5-4 East-West split — this means the West got either both at large Pool C bids, or a Pool C bid and a pool B bid. Expect the ECAC West to continue to grab the Pool B bid for the near future, although the MCHA is making strides. In this case, the first round game would be in the East, with a 50-50 chance of the Division III Frozen Four taking place in the West. That’s in theory. If this happens, expect the Frozen Four to be in the West, because this is the only scenario where it can occur.
2. A 6-3 East-West split — this is probably the most likely scenario, which calls for a Pool C bid to go to each region and the Pool B bid to stay in the East. Significant cost savings can be obtained by putting the first-round game in the West, but is it fair to guarantee that just one Western team will be in the Frozen Four no matter how good those three teams are?
3. A 7-2 East-West split — while expected to be rare, this almost happened last season. Sources indicate that if Middlebury had lost to Trinity in the NESCAC finals (the game went to overtime), St. Norbert would have been left home with both Pool C bids going to the East. I personally think St. Norbert would still have gotten in over Bowdoin, but the criteria were very close. In this scenario, the first-round game is in the East, but again just one Western team makes the Frozen Four.
Anything but a 5-4 split guarantees an Eastern Frozen Four under this system, unless the play-in game happens in the East with a 6-3 split. The Division III Men’s committee attempted to allow for this possibility during the offseason, but a proposal to make sure the play-in game is in the East in the event of a 6-3 split was denied by the Division III Championships Committee, which oversees all Division III NCAA tournaments. In a memo distributed to coaches, it was reported that the recommendation was denied “as it is contrary to the established pairings and seeding policies.”
The memo goes on to say that the Championship Committee is looking into potential changes to the process for sports with “odd-sized” brackets, but for the foreseeable future, expect things to remain as they are.
The only other postseason change is a slight difference in format for the NESCAC. According to the NESCAC web page, eight teams will make the playoffs this season, with traditional single-elimination quarterfinals, semifinals and finals. For the past few seasons, only the top seven teams made the playoffs, with the regular-season champ getting a bye in the quarterfinals and getting to host the semifinals and finals. Now the highest surviving seed in the quarterfinals will host.
Franklin Pierce, C’mon Down
There’s a new Division II program in the ECAC Northeast this season. Franklin Pierce College, located in Rindge, New Hampshire, has upgraded from club to varsity status. The program has been in existence for over 30 seasons and coach Jay McCormack will try to build on the success that the Ravens have had at the club level. In his 13 years at the helm, Franklin Pierce has won several Northeast Collegiate Hockey Association titles and went to the ACHA nationals in 1995.
The Ravens join Assumption, Southern New Hampshire and Stonehill in the ECAC Northeast Division II bracket, which combines with St. Anselm and St. Michael’s of the ECAC East for the ECAC Division II championship.
Drop the Puck!
There were two major rule changes passed in the offseason. The first (4-7-f, g) is that a goal can now be awarded by a referee in the event a goal is illegally prevented that was “obvious and imminent.” In the past, if someone dislodged the net a second before the puck went in, or a goaltender threw his stick at the puck, or even if an entire team left the bench and jumped on an opposing player attempting to score into an open net, the best the referee could award was a penalty shot.
I have only seen this situation occur a few times (twice in one game last season) but it’s a good rule to have. Most teams and players are above this kind of thing, but in theory, in situations where you had your goalie pulled, you could throw a stick or move the net when it was clear the puck was going in, and take your chances with a penalty shot.
The rule change that all fans will notice is the 15-second rule (2-5-b). Since it worked so well during the Olympics, the NCAA decided to adopt a similar rule in an attempt to speed up the game. In faceoff situations, the visiting team has five seconds to change players if they wish, followed by five seconds for the home team. The official then waits five seconds in the faceoff circle and drops the puck, no matter who is ready.
RIT is one of the handful of Division III teams that has played a game this se ason, and head coach Wayne Wilson said that the new rule has some positives and negatives.
“The positive things are that we all want to speed up games and get in a rhythm,” he said. “This helps that as well as eliminating a lot of the hocus pocus that goes on before the faceoff.”
Still, the rule is going to take some getting used to.
“The negatives are that, and I was told this by an official as well, there’s too much movement in the faceoff circle,” said Wilson. “It’s easier to cheat because the official is occupied with counting to five and doesn’t have time to make sure things are fair before the puck is dropped.
“I also think this rule favors the visiting team, since they have to be ready before the home team. They change first, so they have time to make sure they have the right guys out there. Also, the visiting center puts his stick down first, so odds are he’s ready before the other center is.”
The key right now, at least until things settle down, is to be prepared.
“You need to have a plan,” said Wilson. “Teams don’t have time to adjust to what you’re doing, like moving a defenseman to a different spot. Of course, you’ve got to watch what the other team is doing as well.
“I think once everyone gets a feel for the tempo, things will even out.”
Nobody Asked Me
Of course, there are people at a significant disadvantage under this new rule. People whose lives are forever changed by this, whose very self-esteem is at stake.
I’m talking, of course, about radio color commentators. I can barely get a word in edgewise as it is, and now I have even less time to talk.
Of course, my wife wants to implement a 15-second rule around the house, too.