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Five conferences, five paths to Frozen Four

Thursday, 03.03.2011 / 9:00 AM / On Campus

By Bob Snow - NHL.com Correspondent

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Five conferences, five paths to Frozen Four
The goal for all 58 NCAA Division I hockey teams is to reach the Frozen Four. How they get there, though, depends on the conference each team is in.
Three of the five NCAA hockey leagues -- Atlantic Hockey, CCHA and the ECACHL -- ended their regular seasons last weekend. The other two, Hockey East and the WCHA, end this weekend.

Of the 58 Division I teams, 55 will participate in postseason play in the five respective league tournaments. The winner of each gets an invite to the 16-team NCAA Tournament, to be held March 25-27. (The other 11 teams will be selected on an at-large basis.) The four regional pairings, seeded No. 1-4 each, will be announced March 20. The regional winners advance to the Frozen Four, to be held this year in St. Paul, April 7 and 9.

With Alabama-Huntsville playing an independent schedule, only Hockey East's 10-team league exempts members from postseason play.

"I have never favored tournaments where everyone gets in," said Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna. "The battle for the eighth and final playoff spot is more intense each year than the fights for fourth (last home-ice spot) and first place with a regular-season title. I believe it is appropriate for the regular-season race to have real consequences.”

At the other end of that opinion spectrum, CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos said: "It's inclusive; allows for all teams to play at least two additional games and it maximizes the number of campuses that have the opportunity to see playoff/tournament hockey."

Given college hockey's five different tournament formats, is there any plan to achieve uniformity?

"I don't see any reason for us to try to adopt a common postseason format," Bertagna said. "We have different scheduling policies, different number of teams, different geographic factors, etc."

"Not necessarily," said Anastos. "There are a number of variables that are considered when determining your league's tournament format."

The formats have changed this season in Atlantic Hockey, the CCHA and the WCHA following the dissolution of the College Hockey America league and team transfers. The ECACHL and Hockey East formats remain unchanged. 
Here's a scorecard for each conference's post-season tournament format leading to all the semifinal games in each league, to be played Friday, March 18, and the league championship games, Saturday, March 19.

Atlantic Hockey Tournament -- All 12 teams participate, with the tournament beginning this weekend. RIT won the regular-season title, followed in the standings by Air Force, Holy Cross, Niagara, Robert Morris, Connecticut, Mercyhurst, Canisius, Army, Bentley, Sacred Heart and American International

Teams are broken into scheduling regions East and West. In the East it's American International, Army, Bentley, Connecticut, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart. The West features Air Force, Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris.

The top two finishers in each region according to the overall standings receive byes in the first round. The remaining eight teams are broken into scheduling regions and seeded Nos. 3-6 in each, with No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5.

The quarterfinals will be best-of-three series with the remaining eight teams reseeded 1-8 according to the final regular season standings, with the top four seeds hosting the bottom four seeds. 

The semifinals will be reseeded with the highest remaining seed playing the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining seeds facing each other. All three games will be played at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament -- All 11 teams participate, with the tournament beginning this weekend. Michigan won regular-season title, followed in the standings by Notre Dame, Miami, Western Michigan, Ferris State, Northern Michigan, Alaska-Fairbanks, Lake Superior State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Bowling Green.

The top five seeds receive first-round byes, while the remaining six play best-of-three series at campus sites -- the No. 6 seed hosts the No. 11, No. 7 hosts the No. 10 seed and No. 8 hosts the No. 9 seed.

The quarterfinals follow the next weekend with another round of best-of-three series at campus sites after a reseeding of No. 1 through No. 8 based on regular-season rank.

The winners advance to the CCHA Championship at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, with the highest-remaining seed playing the lowest. Winners play in the title game.

Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey League Tournament -- All 12 teams participate, with the tournament beginning this weekend. Union won the regular-season title, followed in the standings by Yale, Dartmouth, Cornell, Princeton, Rensellaer, Clarkson, Quinnipiac, Brown, Harvard, St. Lawrence and Colgate.

The top four teams receive first-round byes. The remaining eight teams are seeded No. 5 through No. 12 and play best-of-three series at campus sites of the top four seeds.

The following weekend, the four winners advance to the quarterfinals at campus sites of teams receiving byes. The eight are reseeded 1-8, with No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5.

The four winners advance to the ECACHL championship semifinal and final games, to be played in Atlantic City, N.J.

Hockey East Tournament -- The top eight teams in the 10-team conference participate, with the tournament beginning next weekend. New Hampshire currently leads the standings, followed by Boston College, Boston University, Merrimack, Maine, Northeastern, Vermont, Massachusetts, Providence and UMass-Lowell.

The eight teams that make the tournament are seeded No. 1 through No. 8 on regular-season standings. The quarterfinals are best-of-three series at the campus sites of the top four seeds.

The four winners advance to semifinal and final of the Hockey East Championship, to be played at TD Garden in Boston.

Western Collegiate Hockey Association -- All 12 teams participate, with the tournament beginning next weekend. North Dakota currently leads the standings, followed by Denver, Nebraska-Omaha, Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota, Colorado College, Wisconsin, St. Cloud, Alaska-Anchorage, Bemidji State, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech.

The WCHA's historic "Final Five" will live on in name, but with the admission of Bemidji State and Nebraska-Omaha this season, the tournament now will become a six-team event.

All 12 teams will take part in the postseason, with six first-round series played on campus sites according to seeds No. 1 through No. 12. The top six seeds will host the series.

The six winners advance to the Final Five in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center. The top two remaining seeds get byes into Friday's semifinals; the No. 3 through No. 6 seeds will play Thursday, March 17 to pare the field to four for the next day's semifinal and then down to two for Saturday's championship.
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I came into a team that had 65 points, that was at the bottom of the basement, a team that everybody wrote off as never going to be good. My goal is to go from the very bottom to the very top.

— Forward Brandon Dubinsky on signing a six-year contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets