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What will the College Hockey playoffs look like?

February 18, 2021, 1:25 PM ET [2 Comments]
Anthony Travalgia
College Hockey Spotlight • RSSArchiveCONTACT
COVID-19 has changed a lot of things across the country, college hockey being no different.

From game cancelations, changes to how the standings are determined and schedule formats changing daily, it’s been a college hockey season like none other.

With what’s happened to date, and the threats that lie ahead despite the decreasing COVID-19 numbers across the country, has forced some conferences to revamp their postseason plans, shying away from what has been done in the past.

Hockey East:

Hockey East will run a single-elimination format with each game being hosted at the home arena of the higher seed. Seeding will be determined by a newly developed mathematical formula that the conference calls the “Hockey East Power Index.”

All 11 Hockey East teams will qualify for the playoffs with seeds 1-5 automatically qualifying for the quarterfinals. The opening round will see seeds 6-11 facing off for the rights to move onto the next round. The conference tournament will begin on Wednesday, March 10, concluding on Saturday March 20.

The tournament’s winner will receive the conference’s automatic bid into the national tournament.

The Hockey East Power Index (HEPI) is a unique mathematical formula that has been created to more accurately rank Hockey East teams given that not all teams will conclude the season with an even number of games played.

The HEPI factors in the number of games played, wins and losses in regulation, overtime and shootouts, and a team’s home and away splits. From there it values wins and losses based on each team’s strength of schedule, their opponent’s strength of schedule, objectively, to rank the teams.


The NCHC tournament will take place at Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks North Dakota, running a single-elimination tournament that begins on March 12 and concludes on March 16. All eight teams will qualify for the postseason with the winner earning the NCHC conference’s automatic bid into the national tournament.

Seeding will be determined on the final NCHC regular-season standings which is set to conclude on March 5. Fans will be permitted on a limited basis, following university, local and state health guidelines.

The top seed with take on the No. 8 seed, with No 2. playing No.7, No. 3 playing No. 6 and seeds four and five playing each other. The four winners will be reseeded for the semifinals.


Beginning on March 12, the WCHA will begin with the top four teams hosting a best-of-three quarterfinal round series. From there, the four remaining teams will meet in a two-round single-elimination tournament to determine the WCHA champion on March 20. The winner will earn the conference’s automatic bid into the national tournament.

This season will be the WCHA’s last, as seven teams will join the newly-formed CCHA.


With only four teams playing in the ECAC this season, the conference has been the most unique conference of the 2020-21 college hockey season.

After the regular season concludes on March 6, the four ECAC teams will compete in single-elimination tournament.

All post-season games will be held on campus sites starting March 18 with the winner earning the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

This year will mark the first time since the 2014 season that the ECAC Hockey men’s championship will not be conducted at the 1980 Rink in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Big Ten

The 2021 Big Ten Hockey Tournament will return to the one-weekend, single-elimination format used during the first four years of Big Ten hockey and will feature all seven conference teams.

The tournament will begin on March 18 and will consist of six games with three games on Thursday; two games on Friday; and the championship game on Saturday. The winner will earn the conference’s automatic bid into the national tournament.

Atlantic Hockey

As of now, Atlantic Hockey has not announced any changes to their postseason format and will run their playoffs under their traditional format.

NCAA Tournament

The NCAA tournament will run its traditional 16-team tournament with each of the six conference’s sending their playoff winners to the tournament.

The tournament will run with four regional sites before heading to Pittsburgh for the Frozen Four.

The East region will be held in Bridgeport, Conn., Midwest in Fargo and the West in Loveland, Colo.

The Northeast Regional site is to be determined after Manchester, N.H., dropped out because of COVID-19 concerns. The NCAA expects to announce a replacement for Manchester in the coming weeks.

The exact science behind how the NCAA will determine the 10 non-conference winners who qualify for the tournament is not quite clear, however, they committee will not be using the traditional PairWise format.

It seems like there will be a lot of subjectivity behind this process while still using some sort of mathematical formatting to land on their 10 teams.

Given the state of college hockey and the impact COVID-19 has played on the current season, there is no easy way to determine the 16 teams who qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
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