Is change good for Atlantic Hockey postseason? Not everyone thinks so

Atlantic Hockey grew to 12 teams this season, which pretty much everyone agrees is a good thing. Niagara and Robert Morris have a new home, and the presence of two more quality teams with good track records of success can only help the league as it continues to raise its image.

On the other hand, the new playoff format isn’t feeling as much love. I personally don’t like it, and a few coaches have also expressed their displeasure, albeit off the record. Nobody likes to criticize a league that continues to get better, but the new postseason format may leave a deserving team out in the cold.

Patrick Knowlton and Sacred Heart knocked off Air Force in last year's Atlantic Hockey playoffs (photo: Nicholas Serrata).

Two regional “pods” make for an unbalanced schedule, with each team playing the others in its pod three times and those in the other regional pod twice. To attempt to address the imbalance, as well as to potentially cut down on travel costs, the top two teams in each pod, regardless of where they are in the actual standings, will get byes in the first round, while the other four teams in each pod will square off against each other in single-elimination games.

“I can understand the need for cost containment,” one coach said. “But if you really want to cut down on costs, eliminate the first round entirely and have the top eight teams make the playoffs.”

That wasn’t a popular choice for all the coaches, and some said that the unbalanced schedule makes it impossible to fairly rank the teams 1-12.

“I wouldn’t support dropping the bottom four teams because we’re not playing the same schedule,” another coach said. “It’s not fair to a team who might not make the playoffs because they played a tougher schedule.”

It’s also not fair for a team finishing in seventh and eighth place overall to get a bye while the fifth- and sixth-place teams have to go on the road for a single-elimination playoff game. Think that can’t happen? Look at the AHA preseason coaches poll.

If the teams finish in that order, the first-round playoff games will have the fifth-place team traveling to the fourth-place team, while the seventh- and eighth-place finishers get a bye and the ninth and 10th teams get home games in the first round.

For the quarterfinals, the teams are reseeded based on the overall final standings, but by then two teams that finished in the top half of the standings could be gone, and not because of an upset.

That’s going to take some getting used to. I get the feeling we may see the league tinker with the schedule and playoff formats if things don’t go well this season.

On the Cape

Last Saturday, Army participated in the first Division I game played on Cape Cod. The Black Knights were defeated by Colgate in the inaugural Cape Cod Classic, played in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 1,600 at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center.

Former Army coach Jack Riley, a Cape Cod resident and American hockey legend, dropped the ceremonial first puck. Riley, 90, is a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and coached the 1960 Olympic team to a gold medal. His sons, Rob and Brian (the current coach), followed in his footsteps at Army. A Riley has now been behind the Army bench for 59 seasons.

Read more and see some great pictures from Melissa Wade here.

Going for a record

On Saturday, Rochester Institute of Technology will try to break a record it set last season: most people to see an AHA team play on home ice. The Tigers host Massachusetts-Lowell at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena.

Last season, RIT drew 7,421 in a 3-2 loss to Colgate. This time, the school is helping to raise money for former Rochester Americans (AHL) and Massachusetts-Lowell player Craig Charron, who is battling cancer. The team will don special black jerseys, which will be auctioned off.

ESPN’s Barry Melrose, who called all three of the Tigers’ NCAA tournament games during their run to the Frozen Four, will be on hand to drop the first puck. For more information, go to the Sharkey’s Fight website.

In case you missed it

A new USCHO.com means a change in how I’ll be reporting to you. Expect a recap of the previous week’s action every Monday, a blog post with a player of the week on Tuesday, as well as a column on Thursday.

We’ll top things off with picks for the weekend on Friday. The first blog post of the season is up.

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