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Off day added to NCAA men's hockey regionals

Beginning this spring, teams will now have a day between the first round and the regional championship game.

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American International's Justin Cole (21) and Judd Caulfield (28) of North Dakota compete for the puck during the NCAA Men's Hockey Midwest Regional at Scheels Arena in Fargo, North Dakota Friday, March 26, 2021. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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There will now be a day off at the NCAA men's hockey regionals between the first-round games and the championship.

The NCAA Division I Competition Oversight Committee approved the change, which was recommended by the Division I Men's Ice Hockey Committee after controversial start times in the 2021 tournament and a five overtime game that left committee members pondering what to do if it happens again.

The change will go into effect immediately.

"The rationale for making the modification includes the need for additional time for the student-athletes to rest and recover as the season comes to its conclusion," the NCAA said in a statement. "Along with the necessary rest, this provides more equity for all the teams when it comes to the game times. With the day off, a team playing the later game on the first day of the regionals has additional time to recover instead of turning around and playing again the next day, which it did under the previous format."

Since 2010, teams that win the early regional semifinal game and receive an extra five or six hours of 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).

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Minnesota coach Bob Motzko and UND coach Brad Berry were irked that despite earning No. 1 seeds in the 2021 regionals, their teams were placed in the late game in their regionals. UND, the No. 1 overall seed, had the latest-scheduled game in any regional.

Both teams won their openers convincingly and lost in the regional championship.

Start times are dictated by ESPN, which holds the television rights to the tournament. Without an ability to dictate who plays in the early regional game and who plays the late one, discussions at May's American Hockey Coaches Association national meetings surrounded placing an off day in between the regional semifinals and championship to negate any advantages.

The NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments have long placed a day off between regional games.

UND coach Brad Berry told the Herald this summer he approved of such a change.

"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."

The change also alleviates any potential issues that could arise 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 and didn't end until 12:42 a.m. Players didn't leave Fargo's Scheels Arena until after 2 a.m.

If such a game occurred in the first round, it would not only be tough to ask the winning team to play again in a few hours, it could be unsafe.

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

The 2022 NCAA regionals will be held in Loveland, Colo., Allentown, Pa., Albany, N.Y., and Worcester, Mass.

The 2023 regionals are scheduled for Fargo, Allentown, Bridgeport, Conn., and Manchester, N.H.

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 bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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