Big Ten hockey coaches got what they wanted on Thursday. The conference tournament will be held four days earlier than originally scheduled, providing teams that advance to the NCAA tournament more time to prepare for the regionals. The seven-team Big Ten tournament will be held March 14-16 at Notre Dame's Compton Family Ice Arena, an alteration from the original March 18-20 schedule.
"It was a good decision considering what we were up against," Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. "We were kind of heading down the wrong path where a team might have play three games in three days just ahead of the [NCAA] tournament. This was a good alternative."
Coaches had expressed concern about possibly having to play three games in as many days, along the NCAA regionals starting six days later. The NCHC, for example, is holding its eight-team conference tournament over five days in Grand Forks, N.D., with quarterfinals on March 12 and 13, a day off on March 14, and the semifinals and final the following two days. The Big Ten didn't add a day of rest during its tourney.
"We had a few scenarios, all for competitive balance," Motzko said. "This was a compromise because that's ample time to get ready [for the NCAA tournament]."
The Big Ten also made official what has become apparent in a season that's featured postponements and cancellations because of COVID-19: The conference's regular-season champion and tournament's seedings will be determined by winning percentage in conference games, rather than total points, because of the unequal number of games played among the teams. Wins in regulation and overtime will be counted as wins, and shootout results counted as ties for the purpose of calculating winning percentages.
The Gophers lead the Big Ten with a .750 winning percentage and have two games remaining, vs. Michigan on March 5 and 6. Wisconsin is second at .675 and has four games left, against Ohio State and Michigan State. Minnesota can clinch the regular-season title with getting at least a win and a tie against Michigan, no matter what Wisconsin does.
Though the Big Ten said in its statement that schools will continue to seek ways to reschedule games postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 reasons, Motzko reiterated there is "zero chance" that the Gophers' canceled series at Penn State on Saturday and Sunday will be rescheduled.