Changes to hockey playoff format promise better matchups
By: Warren Mayes
The Midstates Club Hockey Association playoffs have been tweaked with moves reaching the approval of most.
The playoffs changed from the top 16 teams being put in the Challenge Cup, the next 16 teams placed in the Wickenheiser Cup, and the other teams playing in the Founders Cup.
Now, the top 12 make the Challenge Cup, with a three-game round-robin format used to whittle out four teams to set up quarterfinals, semifinals and the championship game. The quarterfinals and semifinals will be a two-game series with a minigame if needed to break a tie. The championship is winner take all.
The next 16 teams will be in the Wickenheiser Cup. That competition also will use a three-game round-robin format before moving to the quarterfinals and beyond.
The other teams will be placed in the Founders Cup and it will be played as it has been.
The championship game for the Founders Cup will be Feb. 18 at Queeny Park. The tentative date for the other two championship games will be Feb. 28 at the Scottrade Center.
Midstates also did a realignment of the 40-team league this season. It placed teams in four new league conferences, each with two five-team divisions. They are the Southwest Conference, North-South Conference, Central Conference and St. Charles Conference.
Teams play teams in their division twice and teams in the other division of their conference once for a total of 13 conference games. That leaves each team with eight out-of-conference matchups to schedule any rivalry games that may no longer be conference matchups.
The playoff seedings and pairings will take place later this month, likely Jan. 27. The playoffs likely will begin Jan. 30 and 31.
CBC coach John Jost is onboard with the moves.
“There are 12 teams at the top,” said Jost, whose Cadets are the defending Challenge Cup champs. “Realistically, that’s the right thing to do. I hate to see less teams playing in it. That’s what they decided.”
Midstates created a committee to come up with the changes. Midstates board members, league coaches and rules committee members met four times after last season.
The new playoff format is the same one USA Hockey uses for its national tournaments.
Members of the group thought this would improve Midstates playoffs. It should create more excitement as the No. 15 and 16 seeds in the Challenge Cup always faced a difficult task playing the top seeds.
Chaminade coach Nathan Hirsch backs the changes.
“I actually do like it. There becomes more of a chance of an upset in the first round with the round robin,” Hirsch said. “There’s a little more parity. The No. 16 seed would go in and get beat 10-0. Hopefully the 12 team are more competitive. At the same time, the three games in the first round have more of a chance of an upset. Teams can be rewarded.”
Count De Smet Jesuit coach John Mattingly Jr. also in favor, and Marquette coach Ryan Kane agreed that the new format makes for better competition.
“I think it adds excitement and gives the lower seeds a better opportunity to compete, but still allows the top teams a fair path through the playoffs,” Kane said. “… it is proven to be a fair and exciting way to conduct playoffs. Midstates is still holding true to some of their traditions, with the two game plus minigame series format in the bracket stage.
“I also think everyone is looking forward to playing more teams in the initial round robin play. We could see more “natural rivals”matched up in the playoffs which is great for the teams and the league.”
Westminster Christian Academy coach Tom Canfield said, “I like the new format in theory because it has a better tournament feel to it, and it gives a better opportunity to the teams playing well to advance in their brackets. Improvement comes from trying new ideas.”
The teams are glad the postseason is almost here.
“Everyone is excited,” Mattingly said. “It is a great time of the year for high school hockey.”
Canfield’s Wildcats want to use this year as redemption.
“We are excited for playoffs every year, but we did not like the way our season ended last year,” Canfield said. “We look forward to getting another crack at performing to our potential when it really matters.”
Kane’s club has not enjoyed success like it had envisioned when the season began. But the playoffs can change that.
“It has been a tough season for the Mustangs, so the playoffs will be a fresh start with an opportunity to end the season on a high note,” Kane said. “However, at this point, we are on the bubble of the Challenge Cup, so we need a strong finish to achieve our goal of playing in the Challenge Cup playoffs.”