Just like Motown's freeway system prepped for Super Bowl XL, the 'Road to the Joe' underwent major reconstruction to pave the way for the 25th anniversary of the CCHA Championship at Joe Louis Arena.
Under the new playoff format, the league's teams are given a new incentive - a first-round bye - to finish in the top four spots in the conference.
Like the former format, all 12 teams will still compete in the 2006 CCHA tournament. The new format features the teams that finish in the top four spots in the regular season earning a first-round bye. Teams five through eight will host teams nine through 12 in a best-of-three series for the first round on Friday-Sunday, March 3-5. After the first round is decided, the schools that earned first-round byes will host the teams that advance in another best-of-three series from March 10-12. The teams that advance into the second round will be re-seeded.
Once the four survivors have been decided, teams will converge on the Joe on March 17-18. The semifinals are scheduled for 4:05 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. on March 17. A third-place game and the CCHA Championship itself will be played on March 19. CCHA Championship Weekend is more than just four action-packed, momentous hockey games with the winner of the Championship earning an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, it's a celebration of hockey with the Awards Banquet at the Fox Theatre to kick off the weekend festivities. Alumni games, a media game, coaches' clinic, Mite Jamboree and Kids' College Classic Youth Hockey Tournament all combine to create a weekend any hockey fan will never forget.
CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos says there are a number of reasons for the format change.
"We felt that the new format provides the best of both worlds, as it allows for more teams to host an on-campus playoff series, and provides a fair chance to win for all teams participating in the championship tournament," said No. 81 on The Hockey News list of 100 people of power and influence.
As an example, if the 2004-05 season had been played using the new CCHA tournament format, two more teams would have hosted on-campus playoff series. Michigan, Ohio State, Northern Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha would have received first-round byes, while Bowling Green would have hosted Notre Dame, Michigan State would have welcomed Ferris State, Miami would have hosted Western Michigan while Alaska Fairbanks would have stayed home to play Lake Superior.
After those first-round contests were settled, the winners of those series would travel to the home site of the four teams who earned byes for a best-of-three series. The teams would be re-seeded so that the team that advances with the fewest points would travel to Michigan and so forth.
"As a coach, I like the fact that only four teams will make it to Joe Louis, but I am leery of being out of action for a week with one of those byes," said Wolverine head coach Red Berenson, who voted in favor of the format change. "For the conference, hopefully, this will help generate more interest down the stretch with more teams playing for home ice. Also, I like having two days of hockey at Joe Louis Arena instead of three. It makes the tournament cleaner instead of two teams getting byes."
Lake Superior State head coach Jim Roque is also hopeful about the change.
"We're all for anything that gives Lake Superior a better chance to host a playoff series, and the new format gives more teams a chance to do that. We were in the running for home ice until late last season so achieving that is definitely a goal among our players. We'd also love to give our fans one more home series, especially one with so much at stake. Our fans understand the significance of getting to the Joe."
The change in format is similar to Major League Baseball's wildcard format in that it should generate excitement around the league as teams that might have been on the outskirts of the race for home ice in the past could find themselves battling it out to host a first-round match-up. While the results of the change won't be known for sure until after the dust settles, it is probable that the new format will result in one hot winter as teams battle for the right to host a playoff series.
Follow the CCHA's Road to the Joe tour by visiting CCHA.com. Ticket information for the CCHA Championship can be found on collegehockeyatthejoe.com.