College hockey coaches discuss possible change to NCAA regional format

The five overtime game between UND and Minnesota Duluth took center stage at the annual AHCA meetings.

UND's Gavin Hain and Minnesota Duluth goalie Zach Stejskal, former teammates in high school at Grand Rapids, share a laugh during a whistle early in Saturday's NCAA Fargo Regional championship March 27, 2021. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

When the NCAA men's hockey tournament bracket was revealed in March, Minnesota coach Bob Motzko wasted no time expressing his displeasure.

It had nothing to do with Minnesota's opponent or where the Gophers were sent.

It was all about the time of the game.

Minnesota, the regional's No. 1 seed, was placed into the second regional semifinal game in Loveland, Colo., six hours after the first game between Minnesota State-Mankato and Quinnipiac.

In Fargo's regional, the same thing happened.


Although UND coach Brad Berry's comments stayed focused on the upcoming opponent, the Fighting Hawks were privately annoyed that, despite earning the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, they were placed in the latest regional semifinal game in the entire tournament, an 8:30 p.m. Central/9:30 p.m. Eastern start.

Playing in the NCAA regional's opening game -- and getting about five or six extra hours of rest before the following day's regional championship -- may not seem like much, but the results say otherwise.

Since 2010, teams that win the early regional semifinal game and get the extra rest are 28-14 in the regional championship game. That's a .667 winning percentage, which is even higher than the winning percentage No. 1 seeds have against No. 4 seeds in the same timeframe (.605).

Motzko and Berry were likely aware of those stats, and as No. 1 seeds, felt their teams had earned the advantage of playing in the early game.

ESPN, owner of the television rights to the tournament, dictates start times.

Instead of battling over which team gets to play the early game -- something out of the NCAA's control because of the TV deal -- discussions at this week's American Hockey Coaches Association national meetings surrounded placing an off day in between the regional semifinals and regional championship game.

That would negate any advantage gained by playing the early regional semifinal game and it would align the hockey regionals with how the NCAA Frozen Four and the NCAA men's and women's basketball regionals are conducted.

The move would increase tournament cost by requiring an extra day of hotel lodging for advancing teams and it would tie up the venue for an extra day, but Berry said he would approve of such a move.


"Absolutely," Berry said. "It provides consistency and equality to every team. The biggest thing is the ESPN contract is still in place. They dictate game times. If that's the case, and we're playing a 9 p.m. game as the No. 1 seed, it eases it a bit knowing you have a day off the next day if you win that first game."

It also would alleviate any potentially issues that could be created if a regional semifinal game goes deep into multiple overtimes like the regional final between UND and Minnesota Duluth this March. That one went five overtimes.

"The day off in between would absolutely be better for everybody as far as equality," Berry said.

Discussing the 5 OT game

That five overtime game was discussed in a number of ways at the meetings.

Berry and Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin held a seminar about coaching in that game, which is the longest in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Hypotheticals also were discussed involving future tournaments.

What would happen if a five overtime game occurred in the first regional game of the day, pushing back the start time of the second regional until 11 p.m. or later? Would it still be played that night? Or would the entire regional be pushed back a day? At what point should a lengthy game be suspended and completed the next day?

There didn't seem to be a general consensus on those issues. It was mentioned that the five overtime game was an extreme outlier.


In the last eight NCAA tournaments, 16 of the 20 games that went to overtime ended in the first extra session. Three others ended in the second overtime. The last one was the five overtime game.

UND or Minnesota Duluth were involved in every NCAA tournament multiple overtime game in that timeframe.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
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