Archive for August, 2016

Hockey East Has Plans in Place For 11-Team Schedule

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

With Notre Dame’s departure from Hockey East coming at the end of the 2016-17 season, the league is moving forward with plans for an 11-team schedule beginning with the 2017-18 season.

According to several sources, plans were discussed by league athletic directors and administrators over the course of this summer, and while nothing has been formally finalized, the leading scenario would include a 24-game league schedule with all 11 teams qualifying for the Hockey East tournament. Currently, Hockey East utilizes a 22-game league schedule (11 opponents x 2 games), however many coaches wanted to see more league games added in an effort to minimize the number of non-conference games that need to be scheduled on a yearly basis.

Expansion plans for a 12th team have been discussed, but nothing is imminent. It appears that the league is willing to wait for the right fit and won’t be in a rush to court another program just to get the league back to 12 teams. After all, Hockey East functioned for many years as a nine-team league. While an even number of teams is ideal from a scheduling standpoint, it’s certainly not necessary.

The proposed 24-game schedule would consist of:

  • Two games against each of the other 10 Hockey East opponents broken into one home and one away game, with exceptions made for Vermont and Maine (2 home or 2 away, alternating yearly).
  • The final four league games would be determined by an algorithm based on the standings from the previous season. Those four games would include two home games and two road games.
  • Each team would play 12 home games and 12 road games.

Everything is pretty normal until we get to that second bullet point, where it’s been proposed that they utilize a weighted schedule. Teams can fluctuate so much from year to year, especially with the graduation of a large senior class or a slew of pro signings. However, there’s no fair way to project regression. It’s similar to the old league schedule where teams would play opponents three times, two on one campus and one at the other. There seems to be much more thought going into this proposed schedule, whereas before the 2-and-1 format felt like it was randomized, alternating on a year-by-year basis.

It has also been proposed that all 11 teams make the Hockey East tournament, with the top-5 teams getting byes in the first round and 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 12 and 8 vs. 9 determining the final three spots in the quarterfinals. Many believed, when Hockey East adopted the format where all teams qualified, that it was done so in an effort to help the team seeded fifth. Within a 12-team league, that fifth team would host the last-place team for a series at home, more often than not giving them two more wins in the Pairwise which could help Hockey East get another team into the NCAA Tournament. That rationale won’t exist in a format where the top-5 teams receive byes.

AIC’s Move to Downtown A Big Step

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

AIC announced today that it plans to play all of its hockey games at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, Mass.

That’s a big step for an AIC program that, until recently, looked like it was on life support.

In just the past few months, AIC has hired former Army assistant coach Eric Lang, an AIC alum, to lead the program after Gary Wright stepped down. Now the Yellow Jackets are moving on from the outdated Olympia Arena and into state-of-the-art facilities in a renovated arena in Springfield, where they will share the ice with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds.

Even better, the MassMutual Center is only a little more than one mile from AIC’s campus.

The new home should help AIC’s recruiting efforts immensely. In prior seasons, AIC generally went the entire season without a single commit on its list, instead recruiting mostly scraps from the rest of Division I once the season was over. The result was teams that routinely finished at or near the bottom of the RPI. AIC’s last season with a winning percentage above .500 was 1994, a mere 22 years ago.

The recruiting strategy started to change, thanks mostly to the efforts of assistant coaches Mike Towns and Stephen Wiedler, both of whom Lang has retained on his coaching staff. This season AIC had a handful of commits before the end of the season, and I suspect that Lang is going to have his staff be more active in recruiting moving forward.

In Wright’s defense, it also seems like the college is more invested in the program now than it ever was during his tenure.

At a time where RIT and Canisius have built new buildings, and Bentley has a new arena on the way, this is a necessary move for a program like AIC if it is serious about competing in Atlantic Hockey. It’s also a good move for college hockey. AIC should be able to attract more non-conference opponents  for home games now that they are at an adequate facility. With many Hockey East schools in the region, there are a lot of natural non-conference opponents for AIC in what could develop into multi-year agreements.

While it’s perhaps the longest of long shots, there’s also Hockey East’s situation to consider. The league will be at 11 schools after this upcoming season when Notre Dame moves to the Big Ten. AIC has not been one of the programs discussed for possible expansion, but if AIC is willing to invest in 18 scholarships, and plays at the MassMutual Center, it’s a similar situation to UConn prior to it joining Hockey East a few years ago.

Most Hockey East fans want Quinnipiac, however most sources close to the league say that as of right now, that’s not happening. And from Quinnipiac’s standpoint, what does Hockey East have to offer them that they aren’t already receiving as part of the ECAC?

Again, it’s the longest of long shots, but there was a zero percent chance of Hockey East ever considering AIC prior to this offseason. There is still a lot of work for AIC to do, too. But now, with today’s news and what appears to be a serious investment from the college, I wonder if Hockey East would at least take a pitch meeting. Before this, AIC wouldn’t even get into the same room as Hockey East. I think now, the league might at least answer the phone if AIC called.

Before Twitter overreacts, it’s probably a 1% chance, but it’s a chance nonetheless. In college hockey the last few years, stranger things have happened.