WCHA announces change to tournament format

EDINA, Minn. – On Tuesday afternoon, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association announced that the conference will be changing its playoff format for men’s hockey, effective immediately. The reasoning for the change is to help protect the league’s top teams as well as provide a better experience for the fans by reducing potential travel.

The previous playoff format consisted of the top eight teams playing four best-of-three series, with the higher seed hosting the series. The winners of those series would then meet, either at the Xcel Energy Center in Minneapolis or the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, for a single-elimination playdown. The new format will also feature the top eight teams. The opening round will remain the same. The four remaining teams will reseed, and play two best-of-three semifinal series hosted by the higher seed. Finally, the two series winners will play a one-game championship.

“There is no greater thrill for hockey fans than watching their favorite team play for a championship on home ice,” said WCHA President and Men’s Commissioner Bill Robertson in making the announcement. “Much of what makes the WCHA so special are our passionate fan bases and fantastic in-arena atmospheres, which will only be heightened in a playoff series or in a single game with a championship and NCAA Tournament berth on the line.

“The opportunity to compete for the Broadmoor Trophy in a unique, frenzied atmosphere promises to be a fantastic experience for our student-athletes, our institutions and our fans. We look forward to watching a new WCHA tradition grow and flourish.

“I believe this new WCHA playoff format announcement is monumental and historic for many reasons. It delivers many things for the WCHA. There’s fan excitement, a reward for our fan base. It provides an up-close and better feel for our fan access. We hope to have an enhanced student athlete experience. We have the potential for increased revenues. We also believe we have the possibility of a better pair-wise ranking potential.”

Given the locations of the teams in the WCHA, from Michigan to Alaska, the desire to create a more localized experience played a key role in this decision.

“Last year at Van Andel, we had pretty solid attendance and a real solid championship atmosphere there,” said Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels. “The issue, at times, in some respects, it becomes a home-rink advantage advantage to us because both us and Michigan Tech, given our location, were able to bring a lot of fans there.

The same [happened] the year before when we played at the Xcel Center. We had a wonderful crowd there, but it was driven by the Minnesota State fans. You look long-range, you can’t count on those things.”

Along with improving the fan experience, the WCHA is hopeful that this new format will help ensure that multiple teams will be able to qualify for the NCAA tournament thanks to an improved strength of schedule.

“One of the reasons, I think, that campus sites work is that it is seeded by teams that have played each other,” said Daniels. “We will have faced any opponent in our conference a minimum of twice and more than likely four times. You have earned the right to host.

“You are going to protect your top seeds. In a single elimination, you have a greater chance for an upset. For instance, this year with us and Michigan Tech, that was a one versus four. You could have protected your top seed more having a two-out-of-three on their campus site.”

Daniels also suggested that the RPI, which is used to help determine which teams make the NCAA tournament, would be improved for bubble teams.

“In the case where you have a bubble team, like say Michigan Tech, in their first round, let’s assume they won,” said Daniels. “If they play a second round and win, now even if they lost, they would be going in [to the NCAA tournament selection] with four wins, with a chance to make the tournament off of the RPI.”

The WCHA schedule will remain at 28 league games for the 2016-17 campaign, with the regular season concluding a weekend earlier, on February 24-25. The full schedule will be released on Thursday.