Big Ten to make changes for hockey standings and tournament

John Fineran
Tribune Correspondent

SOUTH BEND — As the Big Ten hockey season moves toward the conclusion of its COVID-19 interrupted regular season, to quote northern Minnesota native Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin’.

On Thursday, the Big Ten announced that its post-season hockey tournament, which will be played at Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena, will be moved from its original dates of March 18-20 to March 14-16.

The league said it was doing so to “ease compression between the regular season and postseason tournaments in the interest of the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches and officials.”

All seven schools in the Big Ten — Notre Dame, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State — will compete in the tournament, with the regular-season champion receiving a first-day bye.

The other six schools will be matched up by their regular-season finish — No. 2 vs. No. 7, No. 3 vs. No. 6 and No. 4 vs. No. 5 — for first-round games at 12, 4 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday, March 14.

On Monday, March 15 there will be two semifinals with the regular-season champion playing the lowest-seeded team advancing from Sunday’s first round and the other two first-round winners squaring off. Those games will be played at 4:30 and 8:30 p.m.

The championship game will be played at 8 p.m. Tuesday, March 16 with the winner of the game receiving the league’s automatic berth in the NCAA championship field that will be announced Sunday, March 21. Attendance for all the games is expected to be limited to family members and all of the games will be televised on the Big Ten Network.

The NCAA tournament regionals are March 26-27 (East Regional in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Midwest Regional at Fargo, North Dakota) and March 27-28 (Northeast Regional at Albany, New York, and West Regional at Loveland, Colorado). The NCAA Frozen Four will be played April 8 and 10 in Pittsburgh.

The Big Ten listened to their coaches, who were concerned about NCAA-bound teams playing three games on the original dates and then having a shortened week to rest and prepare for the regionals. The new Big Ten dates separate the league championship game from the NCAA start by 10 days.

The league also announced Thursday that seeding for the tournament would be based on the winning percentage from league games and not by points earned. That change was made because of league games postponed by COVID-19 issues involving primarily Penn State and Michigan.

Michigan lost four games because its Ann Arbor campus was closed in late January when the Great Britain variant strain of COVID-19 was discovered following testing of its athletes returning from break. Penn State has been idle since its 3-2 overtime loss to Notre Dame, losing series with Michigan (Feb. 3-4), Ohio State (Feb. 12-13), Arizona State (non-league) Feb. 20-21 and Minnesota this Saturday and Sunday in University Park.

Notre Dame, which plays this weekend at Michigan State, expects to play host to the Nittany Lions March 5-6 in the teams’ regular season-concluding series. That would make the Irish and the Badgers the only league teams to play their scheduled 24-game league schedules. Penn State would have the fewest games with 18 followed by Michigan with 20 and Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan State with 22, necessitating the change in how the standings would be determined.

The Big Ten Tournament schedule at Notre Dame has shifted for Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson and his club.