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Hockey East Expansion: A Plan To Make A 12-Program Hockey East Association Work

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Notre Dame to Hockey East made little sense. UConn to Hockey East makes even less sense. Conventional wisdom is that when HEA expands to 12 teams, the league will scale back to a 22-game league schedule (2x every other conference member). What that means for a program like Boston College is nine less games against our more traditional HEA opponents and rivals -- Boston University, Maine, New Hampshire, Northeastern, Providence, UMass, etc. -- replaced with two games against Notre Dame and two against a program BC has never faced.

There are some advantages to moving to a shorter conference schedule. This will allow BC to schedule more marquee non-conference opponents during the year, pitting the team against the nation's toughest opponents and preparing the Eagles for the March-April postseason stretch run. With five more non-conference dates a year, this will give the Eagles an opportunity to bring some heavy hitters like Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and Denver to Conte Forum.

It's not all good news for everyone in Hockey East. Many of the smaller profile programs will have a tough time getting clubs from the BTHC, NCHC and WCHA to come east for home games in smaller arenas. As a result, smaller programs like Northeastern, Providence, Merrimack and Lowell may be forced to schedule a steady diet of ECAC and Atlantic Hockey teams to fill the home schedule, further dividing Hockey East's "haves" and "have nots" when it comes to scheduling big games and PWR comparisons.

There are pros and cons to moving to a pared down league schedule, but one thing is clear: fewer Boston College-Boston University, BC-New Hampshire, BC-Maine, BC-anyone really, UNH-Vermont, UMass-Lowell etc. is bad for business. There is simply not a whole lot to be gained by replacing a BC-BU and a BC-UNH regular season game with BC-UConn x2.

Thankfully, moving to a 22-game schedule isn't the only option available to Hockey East. 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
3. Merrimack
4. Northeastern
5. Notre Dame
6. Providence

Shawn Walsh (Public School) Division
1. Connecticut
2. Maine
3. Massachusetts
4. Massachusetts-Lowell
5. New Hampshire
6. Vermont

Schedule. Teams play three-game series against teams within the division (alternating the extra home game every year) as well as a home-and-home series against teams from the other division. That's 27 games, the same number of conference games played by HEA teams today. While this schedule format doesn't preserve competitive balance as well as a 2x11, 22-game schedule would, it does do a better job of striking more of a competitive balance than the current 3x9, 27-game schedule does.

Rivalries. This setup preserves a third regular season game between BC-BU, BC-NU, BC-PC, BC-ND, BU-NU, etc. in the Kelley Division and Maine-UNH, UNH-Vermont, UMA-UML, UMA-UConn in the Walsh Division.

Hockey East Tournament. The conference could then preserve the current Hockey East Tournament format, where the quarterfinals are a best-of-three series played at the lower seed's home ice. The top eight programs, the top four from each division, would advance to the Quarterfinals round. But instead of seeding 1-8, you'd pair:

Walsh Division No. 4 at Kelley Division No. 1
Walsh Division No. 3 at Kelley Division No. 2
Kelley Division No. 3 at Walsh Division No. 2
Kelley Division No. 4 at Walsh Division No. 1

The Hockey East Tournament Semifinals and Finals would still be played at the Garden. In most years you'd expect each of the Big 4 -- BC, BU, Maine and New Hampshire -- to advance to the Garden.

Travel. By keeping a little less than half of the regular season series at three games -- instead of two -- this will help ease the travel constraints of having to go to South Bend for just one game. At least for three weekends out of the year, you could have one Kelley Division team heading to South Bend for a two-game series instead of flying two HEA programs out to South Bend to play just one game.

Really, this is all about preserving the Green Line rivalry between Boston College and Boston University. While there's a part of me that would welcome five more non-conference dates a year, I'd much rather see BC play the same number of conference games against more traditional opponents than play just 22 HEA games and bring more marquee non-conference programs to Conte. And while it's not that big of a deal to BC, the problem will be compounded for smaller programs who will likely struggle to fill their barns with big-name programs out west (short of HEA striking some sort of scheduling agreement with another conference like the BTHC).