Men’s hockey has a chance to make NCAA tournament

Criteria for making the field complicated

Story by Ryan Laughlin, Freelancer

“What’s cool is we’ve put ourselves in a position where it’s all on us,” UW-Eau Claire men’s hockey team captain Jack Callahan said.

The men’s hockey team has put themselves in position to qualify for the NCAA national tournament.

The process of receiving a bid may be confusing, but for the Blugolds it couldn’t be any simpler.


This weekend the Blugolds begin the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. The number two seeded Blugolds host number three seeded UW-River Falls in the semi-finals Friday and Saturday.

Two points are awarded for a win, one point for a tie. First team to three points advances to the WIAC championship. In the event of tie, a mini-game is played following the conclusion of the game on Saturday. The mini-game is one period, 20 minute contest. A tie after the mini-game forces the two teams to advance to sudden death.

Eau Claire head coach Matt Loen said he believes if his team wins the conference championship they should receive the Pool B bid to the national tournament.

This is Loen’s first year serving as an advisor on Regional Committee that is responsible for picking which teams receive a bid to the national tournament.

But how does qualifying for the national tournament even work?

Two seasons ago, the UW-Eau Claire Men’s Hockey did not win their conference, but qualified and eventually won the national championship. Last season, despite winning the conference, the team did not receive a bid to the national tournament. This season, the jury is still out.

“It’s a confusing format,” Loen said.

The tournament is an 11 team format and in order to go teams must receive a bid. Bids are organized into three categories. Pool A, B and C.

There are eight Pool A bids that are awarded to teams that win their conference championship. However, the Pool A bids belong to “automatic qualifier” conferences. To be an automatic qualifier conference there must be seven or more teams in that conference.

After conference restructuring the WIAC now has five teams. St. Norbert’s and St. Scholastica are now members of the Northern Collegiate Hockey Conference, meaning the WIAC does not have enough teams to receive an automatic qualifier.

There is one Pool B bid that is reserved for the best team either in the WIAC or the Eastern College Athletic Conference West.

Lastly, are the three Pool C bids, more commonly called “at-large” bids. These bids allow the next best teams into the tournament from anywhere in the country.

“I don’t think the best teams make the tournament,” Loen said. “Unfortunately, you don’t know who’s better between the east and the west and because of budgets we won’t play each other.”

Callahan is in his third season with the Blugolds and has seen first-hand how the format operates.

“The rankings are the top 15 teams. It should be if you’re the top 15 teams you’re in it,” Callahan said. “How are we continuously ranked in the top 15, but teams that get into the tournament haven’t been ranked at all? It’s not truly a test of the best teams in the nation.”

One solution Loen suggested would be to make the tournament a more standard 16 team format. However, NCAA rules prohibit this.

Current NCAA rules state that all Division III sports without exception must have one bid per every 6.5 teams that play the sport. There are 74 teams that play Division III hockey allowing for 11 bids to the tournament.

Eau Claire then is competing for one of four available bids. Whereas, a team that plays in an automatic qualifier conference potentially have a chance at ten available bids.

The primary criteria considered when awarding bids are:

–Win-loss percentage.

–Head-to-head results.

–Results against common opponent.

–Results against ranked Division III teams.

–Strength of schedule.

New this season in the primary criteria consideration is the win-loss percentage in final 25 percent of season. Making this crunch time for a playoff push.

“All we say in the locker room is… ‘Listen none of that matters if we don’t win, so you can read all you want but we got to win,'” Callahan said. “That’s all we can really do.”