Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Mailbag Q: How will the 2018 Big Ten hockey conference tournament work?

Every week on the Puck Dynasty podcast we answer Twitter questions from listeners. Unfortunately, sometimes we can't get to each and every one. So because of that I wanted to answer one here, on the blog, which has been asked a couple times by different people yet slipped through the cracks.

This weekend's Big Ten conference tournament will be the final time of the current, six team single-elimination format that mirrors the NFL postseason (or the 2010-2013 version of the WCHA Final Five played over a single weekend). Notre Dame joins the fold next season, increasing the number of teams to seven. In addition, the four year experiment of rotating between St. Paul (2014, 2016) and Detroit (2015, 2017) will come to an end with one last trip to Joe Louis Arena.

Neither area won. Both neutral site NHL arenas failed or obvious empty seat reasons.

In its place will be exclusively on-campus sites and a format somewhat similar to the current WCHA format where it goes from one weekend to three.

How does it work? With seven Big Ten teams the regular season champion will be rewarded with a first round bye. Sadly for the Gophers, this year's winner, the free bye doesn't take effect for this year. The other six teams will play one another in best-of-three series at home (think WCHA First Round) with the winner advancing to next week.

Week 1 (best-of-three series):
#2 vs. #7
#3 vs. #6
#4 vs. #5

#1 gets a bye
(All played at higher seed)

The four remaining teams (regular season champion and 3 first round winners) play a single game in week 2 with the two winners advancing to next week's championship. Due to scheduling working around OSU and Wisconsin (both of whom host state championships and basketball in their hockey buildings) it was decided to only go with a single game rather than best-of-three. Potential conflicts were the reason why the Big Ten initially decided on trying the single weekend tournament at a neutral site rather than its original plan with the regular season winner hosting. In some parallel universe the rest of the Big Ten really hates Minnesota, who by the way also host basketball state tournament games, for getting the home ice treatment every year.

Week 2 (single game):
#1 vs. Lowest seeded winner
Highest seed winner vs. Remaining winner
(All played at higher seed)

Finally the two winners face off to determine who gets the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in a single game.

Week 3 (single game):
Highest seeded winner vs. Lowest seeded winner
(Played at higher seed)

There are pros and cons to the new format. Winning the regular season takes on more incentive. The champion gets a bye and home-ice advantage. Finishing last means a much more difficult path than winning three neutral site games in three days to get an NCAA Tournament bid. They have to play in front of hostile fans.

Then again, this time of year can be difficult to sell tickets. It always seems like the first round of conference playoffs have some of the worst attendance. Teams and fans need to make quick decisions. Traveling can be difficult if you don't know where a game will be played.

The three weeks also hurts Minnesota and teams that like to get more than 34 games. Tacking on an extra two weeks of playoffs compresses the season, meaning the Gophers either have to start early or lose an extra bye week.

At the end of the day, I'm interested in seeing if it works. On paper on-campus games likely is a better option than neutral site, however, since through the first three iterations shown the sad fact that no one seems to want to travel.

If the WCHA is any indication, Michigan Tech already sold out the championship game this weekend.

No comments:

Post a Comment