Since October, the Michigan hockey team has played 28 CCHA games, compiling the league’s second-best record and has been ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the nation in both the polls and the computer-generated Pairwise Rankings.
But that means nothing now.
That’s because every CCHA team – regardless of its record – enters into the CCHA playoffs with a chance of accomplishing a goal that each team sets for itself each season: A trip to Joe Louis Arena for the Super Six. It doesn’t matter if you’re Lake Superior State, which has won three games, or Ferris State, which has won 22.
If you win your best-of-three series this weekend, you get to attend the biggest event the league holds all season and a chance at the Mason Cup.
For many squads, it’s their only chance of playing at an NHL rink, and instead of using 28 conference games to decide who receives this privilege, the league uses two or three. This takes away months of hard work the conference’s top teams have put into the season.
“You wonder what the whole regular season means,” Michigan associate head coach Mel Pearson said. “Obviously, it’s for seeding and what not, but when all 12 teams get in, it does get a little redundant.”
Michigan – in lieu of its second-place finish – will host 11th-place Bowling Green in a best-of-three series starting Friday. While the Wolverines will be heavily favored, anything can happen.
This past weekend, when the Hockey East (all of college hockey’s major conferences have a similar system) started it’s playoffs, Maine, which started its season 20-2-3, was swept by Massachusetts and will now have to watch its league finals at Boston’s FleetCenter on local television.
The Wolverines almost had the same thing happen to them last season when they lost the first game of their first-round series to Lake Superior State.
While it can be argued that this adds excitement, it undermines everything the Black Bears did this season. Maine achieved much more than Massachusetts this season, but the Minutemen get to compete at the league finals because they had a better weekend.
For financial reasons, the CCHA has expanded its playoffs over the past few years from eight to 10 to 12 teams, taking away anything special about making the conference tournament.
“I liked it when we had eight teams in the playoffs,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “It was a great race, and every game was huge. Making the playoffs was big. Now, it’s just a matter of who you play and getting home ice.”
Much of the reason for this expansion is the additional revenue it creates. But after playing as many as 38 regular season games, how much difference does adding an additional two games really create? Even if the schools insist on playing an extra two games, schools would be better off playing two additional non-conference games.
Although many of the major basketball conference tournaments occurring this week have been successful including all comers, hockey conference tournaments are different in that only a select amount of teams get to play at the tournament’s final venue.
Every Big Ten team will have a chance to play on the court at the United Center this week in Chicago, while just six CCHA teams will skate at The Joe because hockey teams cannot play four consecutive days.
While Berenson likes the playoff atmosphere this weekend will provide, it is an unnecessary addition to the five-month college hockey season. Next weekend will provide for a fun and exciting atmosphere, and the league’s top teams deserve to be in attendance.
Who gets to go should be a decision based upon four months, not one weekend.