Here’s an update from U.S. College Hockey Online’s Todd Milewski on what the WCHA playoffs may look like next season when the league expands from 10 to 12 teams:
Jan. 20 — The WCHA Final Five moniker may hang around even as the league expands to 12 teams next season, but a handful of changes to the WCHA’s tournament format appear to be in the making.
League officials did not come up with any final decisions when they discussed the future of the two-week postseason last Thursday at a meeting held in connection with the NCAA convention in Atlanta.
But there were indications that the WCHA would prefer to keep the Final Five name that it has used since 1993, even if the tournament includes six teams, a league source said.
And it appears set that the postseason will include all 12 teams once the WCHA expands to include Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha next season. That would push six teams to the league’s playoff championship and require a reformatting of the three-day tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
Currently, the Final Five includes five games — a play-in contest Thursday night, two semifinals on Friday, a third-place game Saturday afternoon and the title game Saturday night.
The leading thought out of the meeting, the source said, was that the league could still used the Final Five title with a simple redefinition — five games, instead of five teams.
The third-place game has long been a source of contention in the league. While that game can be important — winning the 2006 version gave Wisconsin the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament over Minnesota, which it defeated — it also has been detrimental to some.
In 17 years of the Final Five, the consolation game loser has made the NCAA tournament 10 times. Seven times — including the last four years — that team has lost its first NCAA game.
The third-place game is important to the league’s coffers, however, because it is a separate ticket that provides revenue, and therefore the league is reluctant to give it up.
Having six teams involved would allow the WCHA to keep a five-game format — two play-in games Thursday involving the teams seeded third through sixth, two semifinals Friday and the championship game Saturday — and please a vocal group of coaches by dumping the consolation game.
The sticking point, the source said, was in trading a Saturday afternoon game that has averaged 14,282 in attendance since the tournament moved to the Xcel Energy Center in 2001, for a Thursday afternoon game. One remedy that has been floated was to play the Thursday games consecutively, without requiring fans to leave and re-enter on a new ticket.
The idea of keeping a 10-team postseason by eliminating the bottom two teams from the playoffs altogether — like is done in Hockey East — didn’t go far, the source said. Coaches indicated that if they were stuck at the bottom of the standings late in the season, they wanted to keep alive some hope in their season by looking toward the first round of the playoffs.
Other issues that remain to be resolved:
• Whether teams would be reseeded after the Thursday games to allow the top seed to play the lowest remaining seed. A fixed bracket — the No. 1 seed playing the winner of the play-in game between the fourth and fifth seeds and the No. 2 seed playing either the third or sixth seed — could aid in scheduling.
• Whether Minnesota would automatically be assigned to the night game on Thursday and Friday (if it is still alive in the tournament) to maximize local ticket sales. The so-called “Minnesota rule” currently sets the Gophers up with the prime-time semifinal spot, even if it causes the Thursday night winner to play Friday afternoon.