In their weekly TMQ column, USCHO's Jim Connelly and Todd D. Milewski wondered with outdoor games jumping the shark, what kinds of events can be the next big thing in college hockey? Connelly would like to see a round-robin tournament involving the six New England state schools -- Connecticut, Massachusetts, Lowell, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont -- that will be members of Hockey East next season.
I would like to see the six count their league games against one another in a round-robin type of tournament. Make it so all of the games are completed by the third-to-last week of the season and, on that weekend, have the top four teams play a Governor's Cup tournament. It may require the teams asking for some exemptions from the NCAA to play up-to two extra games. And it's very much a pipe dream but something that's cool.
Not sure how feasible this sort of Governor's Cup tournament is, but this idea got me thinking of another one similar in concept I had shortly after Connecticut was accepted as the league's 12th member. Not only will there be six New England state schools in Hockey East starting next season, six private schools make up the rest of the conference. Why not split the conference into two six-team divisions?
If HEA introduces two six-team divisions, the conference can preserve more traditional rivalries, contain travel costs and keep the existing Hockey East Tournament format.
Here are the proposed divisions:
John "Snooks" Kelley (Private School) Division
1. Boston College
2. Boston University
5. Notre Dame
Shawn Walsh (Public School) Division
5. New Hampshire
Instead of playing just 22 conference games, the league would go back to the 27-game schedule. Teams would face intra-division teams three times a year and inter-division games twice a year. A return to the 27-game schedule would preserve the league's best rivalries and give programs one more game against their chief rivals. How can more BC-BU, BC-PC and BC-Notre Dame be a bad thing?
This setup would also ease difficulties involving non-conference scheduling for some of Hockey East's smaller programs. Merrimack, for example, will play two less games this season because the Warriors couldn't find enough non-conference opponents to fill the 14 non-conference scheduling slots. Instead of needing to schedule 12 non-conference games a year, programs would return to a more modest seven a year.
The Hockey East Tournament could return to its previous quarterfinals format. Or, if the Association insists on every program earning 9th through 12th place participation ribbons, the top two teams in each division receive byes while teams ranked 3-6 would face one another in a 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5 format to advance to the quarterfinals.
Hockey East division play would be unique to college hockey but would add an interesting wrinkle to the sport's best conference; all while giving fans more games of the rivalries that make this conference great. Could Hockey East division play be the next big thing in college hockey?