If it doesn’t add another team, Hockey East will probably go to to a 24-game league schedule in two years after the University of Notre Dame leaves to join the Big Ten Conference.
That was the word from Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna based on discussions held at the annual American Hockey Coaches Association convention in Naples, Florida, last weekend.
Notre Dame will play its fourth and final season in Hockey East next season and there will again be a 22-game league schedule as there was the previous two seasons with a 12-team league.
Every team plays everybody else twice.
But when the Fighting Irish leave, the league will be back to 11 teams, as it was in 2013-14 when it had 20 league games.
“The coaches want to play more than 20 league games,” said University of Maine coach Red Gendron.
Bertagna said the tentative plan would be for each team to play six teams twice and four teams three times.
He explained that the scheduling of the three-game sets would be random and would be aided by a computer analysis.
The previous year’s standings would be taken into consideration to ensure a team wouldn’t play the teams that finished in the top four in the standings or the bottom four.
“There would be a mixture of strong and weak teams and it would change from year to year,” he said.
When there were 10 teams, they used to play each other three times for 27 league games.
Bertagna also said they discussed the Hockey East Tournament format with 11 teams and there were a couple of options.
One is to include all 11 teams and have the top five finishers earn byes and teams six through 11 play a best-of-three series to produce the final three teams.
“There is another proposal to exclude the 11th team and have five best-of-three series which would bring five teams to Boston [instead of four],” said Bertagna.
That would result in a play-in game between the two lowest seeded teams and Bertagna doesn’t feel that game, which would probably be played on a Thursday, would draw well at the TD Garden in Boston.
Bertagna said adding a 12th team to replace Notre Dame would be ideal because all the teams could be playing league games the same weekend instead of having one which is idle or playing non-league games.
“It’s hard to schedule non-conference games in February,” he said.
The schools mentioned as possibilities include ECAC teams Quinnipiac University from Hamden, Connecticut, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute from Troy, New York, or Massachusetts-based Atlantic Hockey schools Holy Cross and Bentley University.
“In my time here, Hockey East has never initiated any contact with other schools [about joining the league],” said Bertagna. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we heard from somebody. But it’s early. We’re in no particular hurry.”