ROCHESTER - The United Collegiate Hockey Conference has announced a significant change to the tournament format for the UCHC men's championship, effective for the 2018-19 season. The alterations were discussed by league coaches prior to last season, and later ratified by administrators from member schools in preparation for the upcoming season.
In its inaugural 2017-18 season, the UCHC chose to continue with the membership's existing playoff format. That entailed a six team, single elimination tournament with the top two seeds getting a bye into the conference semifinals.
For the 2018-19 season, six teams will qualify for the UCHC Championship tournament, and the bracket structure will remain identical to preceding seasons. The principal change will occur in how teams advance in the final two rounds. The opening round will remain single elimination, with the third seeded team playing the sixth seeded team, and the fourth place team playing the fifth place team. The semifinals and finals will now be conducted under a minigame series format authorized for use in conference tournaments by the NCAA.
Under the new format, teams in the semifinals and finals will play a two game series over a two day period at the higher seeded team. If a team posts two wins, or a win and a tie in the two games, they win the series. If the two game series is split at one win apiece, or both games of the series end in a tie, the series will progress into the minigame to determine an advancing team. If the minigame is necessary, a fifteen minute intermission following the conclusion of the second game will begin. Both teams will head to their locker rooms, and the ice will be resurfaced. The minigame is its own stipulated contest separate from the game that preceded it, so teams may make lineup changes in the first five minutes of the intermission if they so choose, and the score for the minigame will be reset to 0-0.
For the minigame, teams will play a single 20 minute period at regular 5-on-5 strength. The higher scoring team at the end of that period is declared the winner and advancing team. If the score is tied at the end of that period, the minigame will have another fifteen minute intermission, followed by a 20 minute sudden death overtime period. The teams will play additional 20 minute periods, separated by 15 minute intermissions, until someone scores to advance.
The changes are designed to encourage consistent play over a longer period, which increases the likelihood that the stronger team over the course of the playoff matchup is the one that moves on. In addition, it will also present the opportunity for top teams in the conference to potentially play more games against other top teams in the conference, which is capable of aiding top NCAA Tournament at-large contenders in boosting their resumes to receive those opportunities alongside the conference's brand new automatic bid to the tournament for this season.
UCHC Commissioner Chuck Mitrano feels fans, players, and coaches have much to be excited about for the new format.
“This unique format will prove to be very exciting for UCHC institutions and fans," Mitrano said. "A mini-series also ensures the better team is rewarded and an outstanding season isn’t wiped out by one single tough game. The UCHC champion will be battle tested and proven for success when advancing to the NCAA Tournament.”
The UCHC will be the only conference in the East region of Division III hockey playing under the modified format this season, but it is not a totally new concept in NCAA Division III hockey. Currently, the Northern Collegiate Hockey Association and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association use the minigame series format in some way as part of their postseason tournaments. It was formerly also used in the NCAA Division III Men's Ice Hockey Championship.
The UCHC women's tournament format will remain unchanged for the upcoming season.