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NCAA hockey tournament could be changing

The format for the NCAA men's hockey tournament may be changing in a couple of years.

Proposals were discussed at an annual college hockey national meeting in Florida last weekend and one gained the most traction.

Under the most popular proposal, the tournament would stay as a 16-team field, but the first round would be a best-of-three series played at the venue of the higher seed.

The eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals would play at one of two super regional sites. The quarterfinals would be one-game shots with a trip to the Frozen Four on the line. The Frozen Four would not change.

The proposal would have to be approved by the NCAA and could not happen until the 2011-12 season at the earliest. Regional sites already have been scheduled for the upcoming season.

The proposed format would reward teams for having strong seasons.

Recently, top-seeded teams haven't had any big advantages come the national tournament.

Since the NCAA changed to its current 16-team single-elimination format in 2003, No. 1 seeds have made the Frozen Four 46.9 percent of the time. That's down considerably from 1992-02, when top seeds received byes and reached the Frozen Four 65.9 percent of the time.

The last time the NCAA tournament had a best-of-three series in the first round was from 1988-91. Top seeds reached the Frozen Four 87.5 percent of the time under that format, which included 12 teams.

There was some debate whether it would be good financially for the NCAA. If teams that play in large buildings like UND, Minnesota and Wisconsin hosted, it would certainly be more lucrative than the current format, which awards regionals to off-campus, neutral sites.

Money could be lost if teams that play in small buildings are the host.

One thing, for certain, is that it would help the atmosphere of the regionals.

Often they are not sold out and if a local team is not playing, it can be a quiet arena. UND coach Dave Hakstol said he'd rather play in a hostile environment than one with no atmosphere.

"It's all about the experience for the players," Hakstol said. "I'd much rather go to the Kohl Center and have to beat Wisconsin than play somewhere (with no atmosphere)."

The NCAA appears to be examining tournament changes in all sports.

It recently expanded the college men's basketball tournament from 65 to 68 teams after having some discussion about expanding to 96.

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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