Earlier this week it was announced that starting next season, the ECAC East will realign into two six-team divisions. In addition to the realignment, the playoffs will be expanded to eight teams. The current format has six teams making the postseason. The two divisions will be referred to as the North and the South.
The North division will consist of Castleton, New England College, Norwich, Plymouth State, St. Michaels, and Southern Maine. Two teams, Norwich and Plymouth State, will be competing in their inaugural season as full-fledged ECAC East programs.
Meanwhile, the Southern division will be made up of Holy Cross, MIT, UMass-Boston, Manhattanville, St. Anselm, and Salve Regina. On the surface it appears that the Southern division will be more competitive with the likes of Manhattanville and St. Anselm. However, within a few years, expect teams from the North to be just as competitive on the national level as the top teams in the South are.
A recent example of this is currently happening in Division III men’s hockey. When the ECAC Northeast received an automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament a few years ago, there were many people who argued that they didn’t deserve it. They felt that those teams could not compete with the Middlebury and St. Norbert’s of the world. Well, as they are finding out, within a few years teams such as Curry, Wentworth, and UMass-Dartmouth have become legitimate contenders and not just an easy pushover for the “top teams” in Division III.
Women’s hockey is a very young sport and will take time to grow. You can’t expect every team to be competitive right away. For some schools, these things take time for a variety of reasons. Five years from now however, don’t be surprised if women’s hockey is so evolved that it would be unrecognizable to today’s fan. More teams and conferences will be formed. The NCAA tournament will likely expand. The future of Division III women’s hockey looks promising.
Who are these Blugolds?
The Wisconsin-Eau Claire women’s hockey team ended the first semester with a record of 3-6-1. Let’s be honest, with a record like that most teams would begin to sing the phrase “there is always next season”. Well, it’s time to give credit where credit is due. The Blugolds have come out on fire after the Christmas season. They have since gone 7-1-1, upping their season record to 10-7-2. Two weeks ago they made some noise with a 4-3 upset of nationally-ranked Wisconsin-Stevens Point. As if that wasn’t enough, this past weekend they upended the red hot Yellowjackets of Wisconsin-Superior 3-1. Since that game the Yellowjackets haven’t been the same and are currently riding a three-game winless streak.
While the Blugolds chances at an NCAA berth may be gone this season, due to the NCHA’s lack of an automatic qualifier to the NCAA’s, their recent surge has to give the players and coaches a good feeling for not only closing out this season but also in preparing for next year’s campaign. As I mentioned before in this column, it will take time for teams to become competitive night in and night out. However, while the jury is still out, it looks like the Blugolds may have hit their stride.
A Super Game
With Super Bowl XLI just a few days away, let us go off the topic of women’s hockey for a moment. The great thing about the National Football League, as well as all professional sports is that they have a concrete system in determining a true champion. Late Sunday night, when the Chicago Bears are crowned Super Bowl champions, there will be no BCS system, no media poll, and no NCAA committee to blame for the “wrong champion” being crowned. In college football there is always controversy about who the “real champion” is. Someone always gets “screwed”.
Even in the Division III women’s hockey world, we are not immune to problems. While there is never a dispute about who is the champion, the selection process can be enough of a head-ache for fans to take notice. Take last season for example, when Plattsburgh, the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation entering the NCAA tournament was denied the Bye into the Frozen Four because the NCAA committee is instructed to limit as much travel as possible. What if Plattsburgh had lost that Quarterfinal game to Elmira? True, some would argue that if the Cardinals couldn’t win that game they didn’t deserve the Bye anyway. That however is not the point. What if the NFL decided that they did not want the Dallas Cowboys traveling as far as Seattle? Instead, they sent them a much shorter distance to Chicago and gave Seattle the Bye? Could you imagine the uproar that would cause? Especially if the Bears had been upset by the Cowboys.
I understand that for college sports it is virtually impossible to have a system that works as well as professional leagues. This is mainly because not every team can play each other, or have a similar enough to schedule fairly compare records. However, when the NCAA committee meets a little over a month from now, let’s hope that the right thing is done. That the best team, based on the criteria used by the NCAA gets the Bye, and the best teams, based on the NCAA’s criteria, get the Pool B and Pool C bids.
In the meantime, I will stick to favoring the postseasons of professional sports as I sit down and watch the Bears beat the Colts 27-21 this Sunday.