No. 1 seeds set to host NCAA hockey regionals

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — It looked like COVID restrictions had returned.

As Michigan’s No. 1 hockey team battled to continue its season against American International in an NCAA Tournament game, a small crowd gathered to watch the game. In doing so, they have proven how flawed the current regional system is.

In theory, neutral venues should give each team involved an equal chance of winning a game. This takes the crowds out of the equation and ensures that every opponent has to deal with the rigors of travel. However, in this agreement, the small schools draw the short straw.

This is exactly the case of the AIC, a school which welcomes around 1,300 pupils. His entire student body could fill Yost Ice Arena almost five times. The Yellowjackets’ hockey budget surely pales in comparison to any of the Wolverines’ college sports, and that limits the additional support they can provide to their hockey team — in everything from fan support to recruiting. of assets.

And it shows on the ice.

Asked about the success of forward Blake Bennett, AIC coach Eric Lang noted how different the realities are for each program.

“We don’t have a lot of guys that look like those guys there (in Michigan),” Lang said. “…At the end of the day, not many of our guys were recruited by the University of Michigan.”

But against such a formidable opponent – the nation’s No. 1 team – the Yellowjackets came to play. They edged the Wolverines by just one goal in the first intermission and stayed within walking distance the whole way. Lack of discipline and focus has nearly cost Michigan momentum on several occasions, and the AIC has always been there.

Despite all the drama, the crowd lacked almost any semblance of atmosphere.

This is unacceptable given the performance of the Yellowjackets. It was the kind of bold display that could transform a small school’s recruiting to compete in larger markets. It was the kind of game that increases a school’s visibility in D-1 sports. It was the kind of underdog story that can make college hockey grow.

But in front of an empty crowd, none of that mattered. Moving regions to campuses could solve this problem.

“When you look at some of the teams and the crowds that would have been (hosted) in those buildings…it’s a great experience for student-athletes, and that’s what you’re looking for,” said the Michigan coach, Mel Pearson. “And it’s unfortunate to look around the games and see the crowds.”

These crowds are a privilege for athletes who have earned their spot in the NCAA Tournament, and sending them in front of such a small crowd is a slap in the face.

Giving hosting privileges to #1 seeds solves that problem, and they deserve that right if they win the title. Opponents will have to put up with their hostile mobs, of course, but at least someone is watching.

For large swaths of Friday’s game, the AIC faced a juggernaut and held their ground. And because of NCAA logistical decisions, only a small group got to experience it.

It’s impossible to craft a perfect regional site solution because teams don’t exist in a bubble and someone will have an advantage regardless of the outcome. But larger crowds can help smaller schools market their college hockey success.

For the sake of the growth of college hockey, for the sake of fairness, for the good of the AIC:

The No. 1 seeds are to host regionals.

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