MANCHESTER, N.H. — There has been a significant amount of buzz around college hockey about the possibility that this could be one of the final weekends for the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament regional tournaments as we now know them.
When North Dakota athletic director Brian Faison became the committee chair a few weeks back, he was quoted through a report by Midco Sports Network’s Dan Hammer as saying the committee and Division I coaches will discuss during this year’s NCAA coaches convention in April the idea of moving the opening round or rounds of the tournament to campus sites, with either the top four or top eight seeds hosting.
The reason would be to create a better atmosphere given that the home team would be able to attract its own crowd and potentially fill arenas. Regionals, while often able to generate near-sellout (or this weekend in the case of North Dakota playing in Fargo, sellout) crowds, still can present dormant atmosphere. That could be the case on Friday when Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth faceoff in the late game at the Northeast Regional in Manchester, thousands of miles away from their campuses.
For coaches of the four teams playing this weekend in Manchester, opinions were mixed on Thursday. From Yale’s Keith Allain, who seems dead set against campus sites, to Minnesota’s Don Lucia, who seems happy to play wherever his team is sent, it does seem it may be difficult to find a consensus when this topic is brought up in Naples next month.
Then there’s Boston University coach David Quinn, who doesn’t even want to think about next year while this year is still going on.
“I’m not avoiding the question. This is the God’s honest truth. I really haven’t thought about it,” Quinn said when asked for the best way to approach the early rounds of the tournament. “We’re so excited to be here. Maybe I should spend more time thinking about it.
“Ask me in a month and we can have a nice conversation.”
Other coaches, like Yale’s Allain, were not as passive when asked.
“I think it would be a terrible thing to move these games to campus sites,” said Allain, whose school has hosted multiple regionals in Bridgeport, Conn., but has never come away from those as regional champion. “It’s exciting to come to these venues that we don’t get the chance to play in often.
“If you put it on a campus site, it’s a tremendous advantage for the team that is hosting. They’re in their own locker room, they’ve got their own fans. I think it takes away from the national feel of a national tournament. It becomes just a regular college hockey tournament. So I would be totally against it.”
For Minnesota’s Lucia, coaching in his 17th NCAA tournament, all in the era of regional sites, Friday’s game against Minnesota-Duluth could produce a drastically different atmosphere if it was played in Amsoil Arena on UMD’s campus.
“It might have been easier for us to get on a bus and drive two-and-a-half hours to Duluth, and I’m willing to bet they’d be hanging from the rafters this weekend and the price of the ticket would’ve been through the roof on the open market,” Lucia said about the potential of a campus-sites tournament this season. “But you’re not always going to have that type of matchup in the first round.”
Lucia said he isn’t concerned as much about the possibility of eliminating regionals for campus sites as much as he is about the potential to make the opening weekend a best-of-three series as has been rumored when discussing hosting games at campuses.
“If it did go to [campus sites], I’d be more in favor of one game [opening rounds],” Lucia said. “I would not be in favor of two-out-of-three, just from the standpoint of risk of injury late in the year playing a three-game set or the thought you might have to play six games in two straight weekends. Would you have anything left if you did advance?”
Lucia also said the move to campus sites would be a major reward for the teams that have the best seasons. He cited this year’s performance by Michigan Tech, a top-eight seed according to the final PairWise Rankings after having not been in the tournament since 1981, as a great chance to showcase a wonderful hockey city.
“A program like Michigan Tech, this year to play at home, it’s been so long and what a great opportunity for their fans,” Lucia said.
He also downplayed the fear that there could be a number of teams that dominate the top of the PairWise year after year to the point where hosting would become a rite of passage.
“The worry is always whether it’s going to be the same teams [hosting each year]. I don’t think that’s the case anymore,” said Lucia. “With the growth of the game throughout the U.S., there’s more good players and there are so many more good teams. That’s why you see the last two national champions haven’t even gotten back to the NCAA tournament the next year.”
Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin remembered his time as a player for North Dakota playing the opening rounds at campus sites. And it didn’t sound like he saw much of a difference.
“I think there’s some merit [to campus sites],” said Sandelin. “I can remember when I played where you did go to campus sites and played either a two-goal total goals or best-of-three back in the ’80s. That was fun, too.
“But I think there’s so much talk about the conference tournaments out West, the shifting of the leagues and the concerns there [about attendance], there’s talk at our convention a lot about looking at different options for [the NCAA] tournament.
“I’m sure we’ll continue to explore those and make the best decision.
“I enjoy going to different places. I enjoy neutral sites. I think it’s good for your players. And if we have to travel to [New Hampshire] to play one of our rivals, that’s the way it is.”
When all the dust settles, it is hard to know which direction the tournament format will take. But to the point made by Lucia, the one-game scenario might be what makes the entire NCAA tournament most exciting for the fans.
“I’ve been through the process enough to know some years you go further than you should and some years you don’t get that far. That’s the beauty of the upset,” said Lucia. “That’s what makes the one-and-dones fun to watch. That’s what has made the NCAA basketball tournament as special as it is.
“It’s not the teams left standing. For the most part, people enjoy the first weekend more than anything else when you see some of those upsets.”