Doubt it would have saved Roque, but worth noting LSSU missed playoffs by a pt while only playing UAH 2x. Something that will be looked at.
— Chris Dilks (@ChrisDilks) March 12, 2014
As you might expect, this kicked off a torrent of tweets, some from me. You really should go on Twitter and read the whole conversation.
Let’s consider a few things.
UAH had a historically bad season. We all know that. But four games against UAH was not a guarantee of eight points. Two teams, Mankato and Northern, got the full eight points. UAH picked a point off of Anchorage and two off of Bowling Green and Bemidji. [Hold on, I'm laughing at the Bemidji thing. Still laughing. Moving on. Ahem.] So 60% of the time, you didn’t get the full eight points. Now, there is the fact that UAH didn’t have a season split with anyone, and that you’re functionally substituting an average WCHA weekend (split) in that 60% of the time. But the fact still remains that eight points was not automatic. Points off of Anchorage and Bemidji kept them from cruising easily into the postseason.
Just as you can point to UAH as a likely win, you can point to games in Mankato and Ferris as a likely loss. Bowling Green took a point off of Ferris in Big Rapids, but Anchorage could not. Michigan Tech took a point off of the Mavericks in Mankato, but Ferris State could not. Remember how everyone was shocked at that sweep? Ferris was flying at that point and looked like they’d run away with the MacNaughton Cup (instead of getting it on the final night because there was the Mexican Pulled Goaltender Standoff in the Verizon Wireless Center). In all four of these cases, these teams are in the top half of the league. Clearly you can’t say that not getting the return date hurt them, even though they got dinged on the road.
There’s also this nugget from USCHO’s Matt Wellens:
@weloveuahhockey I don’t like idea that playing UAH 4 times gave teams an advantage. NMU played UAH 4 times but played FSU, MSU 4 times.
— Matt Wellens (@mattwellens) March 13, 2014
And it gets worse for the Wildcats: the other teams they played four times were #1 Ferris, #2 Mankato, #3 Alaska, and #5 Michigan Tech. Comparably, Lake State played #1 Ferris, #4 BG, #5 Tech, #6 Anchorage, and #8 Bemidji four times versus #2 Mankato, #3 Alaska, #7 Northern, and #10 UAH just twice. The Bulldogs swept the Lakers for the season. Just as comfortably as you could argue that playing UAH twice — and again, 60% of the time, you’re not getting eight points — you can argue that playing Ferris four times was to your detriment. (You can’t just willy-nilly swap UAH in for Ferris in that last weekend: swapping UAH in means that the Chargers have to play one of their four-times teams in for Lake, and that whole process echoes throughout the conference, likely resulting in all sorts of standings changes.)
When it comes down to the two UP schools struggling to stay in the playoffs, Northern got the job done — with a harder schedule — and Lake State did not. And then when it comes down to the fight for 8th place, Bemidji didn’t get eight points off of UAH, and the tiebreaker was head-to-head record, which the Beavers won decisively, 3-1-0.
Are we going to see seasons like this again in the future? We probably won’t from UAH or anyone else being that historically bad, but we could see another season of a team being impossible to beat at home that you can’t take points off of in your own building. Will that make the standings unbalanced? Perhaps. You could get so lucky as to have #2 and #3 in your building, #4-8 for home-and-homes, and #9 and #10 in their barn, where presumably they can be beaten (especially by you, the league’s best team!). That’s a combination that’s at least as rare as having #10 be this historically bad. Had Lake State had that sort of schedule, they’d have a case. That’s not what happened — not even close.
Look, until the NCAA raises the games cap to 42-44 (before Alaska exemptions), 10-team conferences are going to play unbalanced conference schedules. Were Mankato, Alaska, BG, Lake Superior, and UAH salivating at playing Anchorage four times this year? They were ranked #9 by both the coaches and media coming into the season, and yet they were in on home ice until this time a week ago. Moreover, were Mankato and BG really salivating at the chance to play those teams a combined eight times each? Probably so, but Anchorage proved to be way tougher than anyone expected.
Chris Dilks seems to think that there will be some kind of change in the WCHA. I can’t see where that change would come from, and frankly, I don’t know that it should be changed. There won’t be a #10 outlier again like this season. There probably won’t be any season with one team that wins 24+ games, either. Without those kinds of statistical outliers, an unbalanced schedule has even less discernible effect than it had this season, and even then, it really didn’t matter.