Hockey Seedings Don't Add Up
Somewhere in Orono, Maine, Maine hockey Coach Shawn Walsh is shopping.
"What should I get the NCAA hockey tournament selection committee? Candy? Cigars? A trip to the Bahamas? Those guys are great for giving my team the top seed in the East."
When the tournament selections were announced Sunday afternoon in St. Paul, Minn., the Black Bears (29-11) grabbed the number-one slot in the East seedings.
Harvard (27-3), which owns the best winning percentage in the country (.900), was surprised. The NCAA gave the Crimson the number-two seed in the East.
St. Lawrence (29-5), the ECAC champion, was surprised. Thinking they had a chance for one of the tournament's two byes, the Saints were given the number-three slot.
Maine went shopping for thank-you gifts.
What were the reasons for giving the Black Bears, the Hockey East title-winner, what other teams in the East had a claim to?
Strength of schedule. A victory over B.C. in the Hockey East championship game. A Harvard loss to Vermont in the ECAC semifinals.
Committee members said that Maine played more games against the top 15 teams in the country than either Harvard or St. Lawrence.
Commitee members, however, forgot to say that the Black Bears also played more non-Division I schools than the Crimson and the Saints did.
Check the non-Division I scoreboard among the three schools:
First, the Crimson. No games against a non-Division I school. Every team Harvard played this season has come from the ECAC or Hockey East. Record; 0-0.
Next, the Saints. Three non-Division I games (Salem State, Merrimack and McGill). Record: 3-0.
Finally, the Black Bears. Five non-Division I games (Dalhouise, Merrimack, two against Alabama-Huntsville and Bowdoin). Record: 5-0.
Take away Harvard's games against non-Division I teams and its overall record remains the same. St. Lawrence would be 26-5. Maine would go from 29-11 to 24-11.
It's simple math. Why does a team 13 games over .500 (Maine) in Division I competition get chosen over a team that was 24 games above the .500 mark and consistently ranked in the nation's top five (Harvard)?
What A Strong Schedule You Have
Strength of schedule. Forget about wonloss records, the NCAA said Sunday.
This season, Maine played 12 games against tournament teams (Boston College, Providence, Minnesota, Michigan State, Northern Michigan and Wisconsin). Final record: 6-6.
Harvard played four games against tournament teams (St. Lawrence and Boston College). Final record: 4-0.
Although Harvard did post a perfect record against two tournament squads, the Crimson did not play enough games against other tourney teams.
That's the NCAA's argument, and it is a disadvantage for the Crimson or any other ECAC team.
Since the 12-team ECAC is larger than the other major hockey conferences in the nation (CCHA, WCHA, Hockey East), ECAC teams must play 22 games against league opponents.
Throw in a Beanpot for the Crimson, and the options to play tournament teams are limited. Harvard had only two open dates to play non-league teams. The Crimson faced two Hockey East teams, New Hampshire and Boston College. It won both games.
The Black Bears play in the seven-team Hockey East league. They had to play only 18 league games. And since its schedule is not limited to just Hockey East teams, Maine can add an extra 22 games, which includes the Hockey East-WCHA joint scheduling agreement.
Naturally, Maine will play more tournament teams because it plays sqauds from two of the four major hockey leagues. There's your strength of schedule argument.
So what does this say about the committee's perception about the ECAC?
Do committee members think that Harvard and St. Lawrence play in a weaker conference because they don't have a sufficient number of dates to play squads from other conferences?
It's possible. But why should the ECAC be at fault for fielding 12 teams and maintaining a highly competitive level of hockey?
Maybe the top ECAC teams should play more tournament teams during the season. But for now, let this year's playoffs decide who really is the best team in the East.
The Black Bears shouldn't celebrate too early.