In a college hockey season littered with uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, among the most glaring questions is how teams will be selected and seeded for the NCAA tournament.
University of New Hampshire men’s hockey coach Mike Souza said he thinks there will be some clarity on how that will be determined “in the coming days, if not week” during his weekly media availability on Tuesday.
The PairWise ranking system, used to pick the 10 teams which did not receive automatic bids into the tournament, cannot be used due to teams’ differing numbers of games played and the small number of non-conference games this season. This has led to numerous ideas on how selection and seeding could be done.
From what Souza has heard, he said things are trending toward there being a selection committee process similar to what was used before the PairWise rankings.
The NCAA tournament field is scheduled to be announced on March 21, five days before the four regionals are set to begin. The location for the Northeast Regional is still being determined after UNH and SNHU Arena withdrew from hosting it in Manchester due to the pandemic.
The men’s ice hockey committee consists of one representative from each of the six conferences.
“I don’t really know of another way to do it this year because of this tremendous imbalance — we have such imbalance even in our own league with the amount of games (played),” Souza said of selecting teams for the NCAA tournament via a committee process. “I can’t speak for the other conferences but just in following the other conferences, I think there’s a sense that it might be the best way to do things just because there’s so much unbalance, if you will, and how teams have played. Some have played non-league games, others haven’t, fewer games within your own conference and so on and so forth.”
Hockey East, the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference have each announced how they will hold their respective conference tournaments this year.
Hockey East’s men’s and women’s conference tournaments will be played on campus sites at the home of the higher seed and feature a single-elimination format. All teams will qualify for the tournament but will be seeded based on the league’s Hockey East Power Index formula. The women’s tournament is scheduled to begin Feb. 24 and the men’s tournament is set to begin March 10.
The Big Ten tournament will be held at Notre Dame March 18-20 and use the same single-elimination format used during the conference’s first four years. All seven member teams will qualify for the tournament.
The NCHC announced Monday that its conference tournament will take place at the University of North Dakota March 12-16 and will use a single-elimination format. The tournament was originally scheduled to have best-of-three quarterfinals at campus sites and play the semifinals and final at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
“Due to continued challenges with COVID-19, we are forced to alter the structure and location of the 2021 NCHC Tournament,” NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton told U.S. College Hockey Online in a statement. “Circumstances surrounding travel, testing and fan attendance made the traditional format difficult to complete.”UNH men preparing for Northeastern
The UNH men began practice this week knowing who they will face this weekend, another former certainty that has become a luxury this season.
Fresh off their series sweep of then-No. 20 UMass Lowell last weekend, the Wildcats (5-10-2) will host No. 18 Northeastern (6-5-2) Friday at 7 p.m. before traveling to Boston to face the Huskies Saturday at 6 p.m. Saturday’s game will be aired on NESNPlus.
UNH will allow up to 500 students to attend Friday’s game at the Whittemore Center, marking the first Hockey East game with spectators this season. It will also be the first UNH athletic event with fans since last March.
Northeastern throttled UNH, 7-0, at Matthews Arena on Jan. 13 and is 7-1-2 over its last 10 meetings with the Wildcats.
UNH’s 2-1 and 7-6 (overtime) victories over the River Hawks last weekend marked its first series sweep of the season and ended an eight-game winless streak.
The Huskies lost to both Boston College and Connecticut last week — their only two games since defeating UNH. Northeastern was scheduled to host No. 9 UMass on Tuesday but that game was canceled. UMass has shut down athletics for at least two weeks due to a continuing surge of COVID-19 cases on campus.
“They’re obviously a very skilled team and we’ve been struggling with them over the last couple seasons here,” UNH sophomore defenseman Kalle Eriksson said of the Huskies, “but it feels like we have a lot of confidence after these last two wins last weekend here. They’re a skilled team but we have to match their skill with a physical game and a high pace.”
Steeves, Boutilier receive weekly honors
Notre Dame junior forward and Bedford resident Alex Steeves was named the Big Ten Conference’s Second Star of the Week after a seven-point weekend against Ohio State.
Steeves posted a goal and three assists in the Fighting Irish’s 6-1 triumph over the Buckeyes last Friday and followed up with another three-assist outing in their 8-1 win last Saturday.
Steeves, a Hobey Baker Fan Vote nominee, leads Notre Dame (10-9-1) in both points (22) and goals (10) entering their scheduled two-game home series with No. 5 Minnesota (15-5-0) Friday and Saturday.
UNH redshirt junior goaltender Ava Boutilier was named the Hockey East women’s defensive player of the week this week, marking her second time receiving the accolade this year.
Boutilier, who is on the watch list for the first-ever national women’s hockey goalie of the year award, made 52 saves on the 57 shots she saw in the Wildcats’ series split with No. 10 Providence College last weekend. The Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, resident made 21 of those saves in UNH’s 1-0 home triumph last Friday to secure her fourth shutout of the season and 11th in her career.
Boutilier owns a 6-9-1 record, 2.32 goals against average and .919 save percentage entering the Wildcats’ home-and-home series with No. 3 Northeastern this weekend. UNH (6-11-1) will host the Huskies (13-1-1) Saturday at 2 p.m. before visiting Matthews Arena for a 5 p.m. bout on Sunday, which will be aired on NESN.