Details on how the NCAA will hold its men's tournament and determine its 16-team field are starting to take shape.
On this week's USCHO Spotlight podcast, NCAA Division I men's ice hockey committee chairman Mike Kemp said the plan amid the coronavirus pandemic is to make sure "things will be as normal as they possibly can.''
* The tournament will remain 16 teams with four regional sites: East in Bridgeport, Conn.; Midwest in Fargo; West in Loveland, Colo. The Northeast Regional site is to be determined after Manchester, N.H., dropped out because of COVID-19 concerns. Kemp said the new site will be in the eastern part of the country, and an announcement is expected in the next several days.
* Each of the six conferences – Atlantic Hockey, Big Ten, ECAC, Hockey East, NCHC and WCHA – will have one automatic bid to the tournament. The conference can determine if that bid goes to its regular-season champion or tournament champion.
* Since there is little cross-conference play this season, selection of the 10 at-large NCAA bids will rely on comparisons within conferences if possible, but subjectivity will be in play. "It's unavoidable this year, which makes it challenging,'' said Kemp, senior associate athletic director at Nebraska Omaha. The NCAA also is using regional advisory committees with coaching representatives from each conference to help hockey committee members monitor teams under consideration. "There's going to be an eye-test factor,'' Kemp added.
* The committee will consider geography in order to reduce the number of flights needed for the tournament. "I don't know that it's going to be an overriding factor, but I think it's going to be a factor,'' Kemp said. "The idea of being able to keep teams where they can travel by bus is attractive to everybody. … We're going to have some teams on planes.''
* The Frozen Four will remain in Pittsburgh on April 8 and 10. The regionals are scheduled from March 26-28.
* The decision to allow fans at the regionals and Frozen Four will be dictated by local health departments, though the NCAA has determined that 25% capacity will be the maximum for all winter sports championships.
* The hockey committee continues to discuss what it would do if a team were forced to be sidelined because of COVID-19 for an extended period during the tournament. "It would be difficult to postpone a game for two weeks,'' Kemp said.
The NCAA announced earlier this month that its eight-team Division I women's tournament will be held March 15-21 in Erie, Pa.
Big Ten honors Gophers' LaFontaine, Ranta
Gophers goalie Jack LaFontaine earned Big Ten First Star of the Week honors, and forward Sampo Ranta was named Third Star for their performances in a pair of 3-0 victories at Notre Dame over the weekend.
LaFontaine, a senior, became the first goalie in the program's modern era to post back-to-back shutouts in a two-game road series, stopping all 52 shots he faced against the Fighting Irish. LaFontaine added an assist, his second of the season, on the winning goal in Friday's games. The Mississauga, Ontario, native leads nation with 15 wins, ranks second with five shutouts, third with a 1.56 goals-against average and fourth with a .943 save percentage. LaFontaine is a candidate for both the Hobey Baker Award (top player in college hockey) and Mike Richter Award (top goalie).
Ranta, a junior from Naantali, Finland, had three points against Notre Dame. He scored a goal each night and an assist on the winning goal on Saturday. His 14 goals rank second nationally this season, and his 22 points are tied for the team lead. Both totals are career highs for the forward.
Michigan defenseman Cam York, who had four assists in a split with Wisconsin, was the Big Ten's Second Star of the Week.
WCHA men's tournament format set
The WCHA men's league on Tuesday announced its postseason tournament format, which will include all eight teams that are playing this season and will be held over two weekends.
A best-of-three quarterfinal round will be held March 12-14 at the sites of the top four teams in the standings. The four teams that advance from the quarterfinals will gather at the site of the highest remaining seed for single-elimination semifinals on March 19 and the championship on March 20. The tournament champion will receive the WCHA's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The WCHA is the only one of the three Western men's leagues to use a best-of-three first round.
* In the Big Ten, all seven teams will gather in South Bend, Ind., from March 18-20 for a single-elimination tournament.
* In the NCHC, all eight teams will report to Grand Forks, N.D., for the Frozen Faceoff from March 12-16. Two single-elimination quarterfinals will be held March 12 and 13. After a day of rest, both semifinals will be held March 15, followed by the championship on March 16.