The WCHA men’s hockey league announced Tuesday it will implement a new on-campus playoff format beginning next season.
The "WCHA Playoffs” will feature four best-of-three quarterfinal round series hosted by the conference’s top four regular-season finishers, followed by two best-of-three semifinal round series on the campus of the highest remaining seeds. The “WCHA Championship" will be a single game hosted by the highest seed.
“We wanted an atmosphere where the fans would be excited and for [the student-athletes] to play in front of larger crowds,” WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson said. “We thought this would be a great step for the WCHA and revolutionary for us and for college hockey at the Division 1 level.”
The new format, Robertson said, will also provide better financial stability for the 10-team conference, which includes Minnesota State Mankato and Bemidji State.
"We felt we had a better chance with this tournament to be successful from a financial perspective and understand our expenses and what the potential revenue could be moving forward," he added.
The move ends a 28-year tradition of hosting the conference tournament semifinals and championship game at a neutral site, most of which were in the Twin Cities.
The WCHA Final Five matured into the most-attended college hockey tournament in the country at Xcel Energy Center, but has struggled to fill seats after the sport’s 2014 major realignment. The birth of Big Ten hockey and the NCHC left the WCHA with a new look and without its traditional power programs Minnesota, North Dakota and others.
In 2013, the final year before the WCHA was broken up, the tournament drew 87,295 fans for an average attendance of 17,459 per game at Xcel Energy Center.
The tournament shifted to Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2014 and sold just 11,162 tickets over three sessions. It rotated back to Xcel Energy Center in 2015, but without its old contingent of rivalries the tournament drew just 15,048 over two sessions. Attendance was an issue again in Grand Rapids in 2016.
Xcel Energy Center was scheduled to host the tournament in 2017, but Robertson said the two sides made a “healthy break.” He declined to comment on specifics of any buyout the league might have paid.
The X, which has hosted college hockey tournaments each spring since 2001, won’t host any next spring. The Big Ten tournament will rotate back to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and the NCHC’s Frozen Faceoff is scheduled to return to Target Center.
The Big Ten and NCHC commissioners have said they, too, are considering different sites and formats for their respective conference tournaments. Robertson said the leagues are still having discussions about a potential “Super tournament” or “Super championship Saturday” where all three conferences would play at the same site.
North Dakota beat the Gophers in the last WCHA on-campus tournament championship game played in Grand Forks, N.D., in 1987.