At its annual meeting, held in Naples, FL from April 28th through 30th, the ACHA's Women's Division 1 head coaches approved a number of rule changes for the upcoming 2016-17 season.
Chief among those is a drastic change to the structure to the ACHA national championship tournament.
While the field will remain the same - eight teams - pool play has been abolished in favor of strict head-to-head matchups. The first three days will now see the qualifying and seeded teams pair off (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5) for a best-of-three series. The winners of that round will be re-seeded and advance to the semifinals.
The previous format, which had been in place since the 2009-10 season, split the eight teams into two pools of four, with the top two teams from each advancing to the semifinals after a full round robin.
The nature of tournament sites will also change, as the ACHA will be centralizing the tournaments from each of its five divisions at one big-city location during the same dates in order to consolidate the association's marketing potential and create what should be seen as a major destination event. Columbus, OH will be the first metropolis to host the megatournament, tentatively scheduled for March 14th through 18th of next year.
Additionally, teams trying to qualify for nationals will generally have a much better idea where they stand, as the ACHA rankings will now be issued each week during the season. The move is unprecedented for a women's division as, regardless of changes to methodology, rankings have only ever been issued four or five times per year. Computers and the competition committee will each count for half of the final ranking, as the division-wide vote of the coaches (previously one-third of the tally, along with the other two elements) has been eliminated.
Overtime during the regular season will now be 4-on-4 for five minutes with the teams switching ends, the hope being that reducing the number of players and including the long change will result in fewer tie games.
Several slightly more mundane, but still productive updates were also made and include:
- There is now a universal pre-game protocol. Game times will be listed as the point when the teams step on to the ice, and from there, a ten-minute warmup, starting lineups, the national anthem and the opening faceoff will follow. Exceptions will be made for those at a school requiring the different protocol used by NCAA teams, although in those cases, the game time listed will still correspond to the moment the teams first take the ice.
- Teams will now be required to wear matching equipment.
- All-American nominations, previously submitted by the coaches, will now be automatically granted to players winning first-team selection from each of D1's three conferences. Independent teams (Liberty is the only one right now) will still submit nominations, but will be limited to three forwards, two defensemen and one goalie. Coach of the year awards will use a similar process, with each conference coach of the year and all independent coaches being considered for the honor.
- Following a controversial finish to the ACHA semifinal game between Grand Valley State and Adrian, officials and video review were major points of discussion. Efforts will now be made to use referees from the USA Hockey national pool (as is done in tournament games) more frequently during the regular season. The inclusion of a dedicated video review official for games where replays are available will also be examined.
- Pending legal approval, schools with both a D1 and a D2 team (Miami, Michigan State and Liberty are the only three presently in that category) will be able to roster goalies with both teams. This past season, Liberty's D1 team had to forfeit a game to GVSU after playing a goalie from their D2 team due to being shorthanded in net.
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