BOSTON — There will be no participation trophies this season in Hockey East.
During Monday’s media day at TD Garden, the conference announced a new playoff structure for the 2019 Hockey East Tournament that will see only eight of 11 teams qualify for the postseason. The structure last was used for the 2012-2013 campaign, while the past five seasons saw each squad qualify for the tournament, regardless of where they fell in the regular season standings.
“The new format will only amplify the value of our 2018-19 regular season,” Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said in a statement. “Given our recent history, we expect a slim margin between those who make the playoffs and those who will not.
“The fans will be among the beneficiaries of this change as competition down the stretch is certain to be intense.”
With the reintroduction of the old format, bubble teams will have little to no room for error. Take the University of Vermont, for example, which qualified for the tournament last season as the No. 9 seed but would have missed the playoffs under the current structure.
“Mixed emotions at first,” UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon told NESN.com when asked what he thought of the new format. “I think we have a lot of great teams in Hockey East, but I completely understand and support it. Trying to get the attendance going in the preliminary round was a tough thing — although we don’t have that problem at Vermont.
” … I think it will strengthen things. It will be great competition at the bottom and the middle for a home-ice spot.”
Ultimately, the new format should improve competition and give programs increased incentive to succeed in the regular season. It also should offer wake-up calls to teams that miss the tournament.
“Certainly, if a team doesn’t make the playoffs, they’re gonna evaluate everything to see, ‘OK, what do we need to do to support the program more, is a change needed?” Sneddon said. “I think that will ultimately strengthen the bottom half of the league.
“I don’t know if we deserved to be a playoff team last year. … We know we got to be better this year, and get into that top half of the league.”
The eight qualifying teams will compete in best-of-three quarterfinal series on campus sites March 15-17, with the top four seeds earning hosting duties. The winners will advance to the 35th annual championship weekend, which will be held March 22-23 at TD Garden and broadcast on NESN.