The single-elimination opening round of the Hockey East Tournament experiment may be an extremely short-lived one. Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna told USCHO that a similar tournament format -- single-elimination opening round games between 5-12, 6-11, 7-10 and 8-9 -- may not be used next season.
"Going forward, there still will be a discussion because the coaches are still on the side of a [best] two-out-of-three [format for the opening round]," said Bertagna. "The [athletic] directors who passed this didn't pass it by an overwhelming majority. It was a fairly close vote."
"You're now extending this opening round to the fifth-place team. A 12-versus-5 upset would probably resonate more than this year," said Bertagna. "If I was a betting man, it wouldn't shock me if they changed [the opening round] to a best-of-three next year."
The report also notes that the coaches are looking at ways to eliminate the bye week altogether. The two options listed:
1) Qualify the top eight teams after the regular season and maintain the previous, eight-team best-of-three quarterfinals format.
2) Six best-of-three first-round series and hold the tournament at the TD Garden over three days with six participants. So #hexafinals
The coaches don't support option 1 because they want everyone, even UConn, to get a participation ribbon. That's unfortunate because that's clearly the better of the two options. Bertagna doesn't think that fans will support option 2), pointing to the tournament's attendance drop in years where it hosts Frozen Fenway. Here's a potential solution: stop beating the dead horse that is Frozen Fenway.
I'm not entirely clear why there's so much hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over various 12-team tournament formats here. Hockey East isn't inventing the wheel. College hockey conferences have been holding 12-team tournaments for many years. Assuming that every program will earn a participation ribbon, there are two options:
If coaches want to eliminate the bye week,
-- Six, first round best-of-three series between 1-12, 2-11, 3-10, 4-9, 5-8, 6-7
-- Top two remaining seeds receive byes to the semifinals
-- Bottom four remaining seeds play a single-elimination quarterfinals matchup
A.k.a. the old WCHA Tournament format.
If coaches are comfortable with the bye week,
-- Four first round best-of-three series between 5-12, 6-11, 7-10 and 8-9.
-- The top four teams receive byes and face the four winners from the first round in a best-of-three quarterfinals
A.k.a. the Atlantic Hockey and ECAC Tournament formats.
The league could go with either option. Personally, I'm not a fan of the bye week for top seeds so would prefer the old WCHA Tournament format to the one currently employed by Atlantic Hockey and the ECAC. Either option does eliminate the single-elimination first round format of the tournament which never really made sense in the first place.