Shore Conference will try 16-team playoff format

January 31, 2014 on 10:59 am | In analysis, breaking news | No Comments

The Shore Conference first began awarding hockey titles in 2003-04, when the additions of Red Bank Regional and Point Pleasant Borough gave the league 16 hockey-playing schools. Ten years later, after seemingly constant changes and adjustments to its hockey format, the Shore Conference has broken with New Jersey hockey precedent by announcing its intention to run a 16-team Shore Conference Tournament and determine a single champion, as it does in most other sports.

Previously, Shore teams had been assigned as eligible to compete in either the Handchen Cup or the Dowd Cup. Both trophies had been awarded by the New Jersey Ice Hockey League, with the Handchen Cup dating back as far as 1985, and were adopted by the Shore Conference when its hockey divisions were formed in 2007-08.

Prior to the current school year, however, the conference’s executive committee voted to inaugurate a 16-team playoff format to determine one Shore Conference champion. The document detailing the format is available via this link.

“Last year, the Shore Conference voted to eliminate the Handchen and Dowd Cups and align with the other Shore Conference tournaments,” tournament director and Brick Township Director of Athletics Rick Handchen wrote in an email on Friday. The now-retired Handchen Cup is named for Rick Handchen’s father, and he expressed fondness for the tradition of both tournament trophies.

The move is likely to be unpopular with the hockey community, because some of the early-round games will be mismatches, and less competitive programs would prefer the chance to compete for a cup championship against schools with similar abilities in ice hockey.

Issues also arise, however, when comparing the terms of the Shore Conference Tournament with rules proscribed by the NJSIAA, the state’s governing body. Its tournament regulations, which have been publicly available since the fall, include the following passage:

A play-off series shall be of a single elimination type not to exceed eight (8) teams and limited to a maximum of three (3) games [per team].

The Shore Conference Tournament clearly does not meet these parameters. It will have 16 teams, and the two teams playing in the final will play four games each.

However, two other playoff tournaments and one in-season tournament already fail to meet these guidelines. The Gordon Cup tournament has included 10 teams since 2010, and the Mercer County Tournament has had as many as 15 teams in some editions, though the number is usually closer to 13.

Because the top seeds in those tournaments do not play in the preliminary rounds, teams almost never play four games in one tournament, as at least two teams will do in the Shore Conference Tournament. No team has never played four games in the Gordon Cup, and it happens only occasionally in Mercer County, most recently when Princeton reached the final as a No. 9 seed in 2010. The in-season Bergen County Tournament includes 12 teams but is not considered a “play-off series.”

The Shore Conference Tournament rules also call for ties in the first three rounds of the tournament to be broken by a five-minute overtime period, followed by a shootout. Yet the NJSIAA’s ice hockey rules modifications for this year, also publicly available, state:

There shall be no overtime periods except in league playoffs, regular season tournaments, the NJSIAA state tournament or when playing out of state. For games that require a team to advance, a 15 minute overtime and shootout procedure must be used. For final or championship games, a 15 minute overtime must be used. A shootout shall not be allowed.

When asked about the discrepancies with NJSIAA rules both in number of games in the tournament and in the length of the overtimes, tournament director Handchen cited limited ice time as the reason for five-minute overtime periods and said the Shore Conference executive committee has approved the tournament rules.

While the tournament’s regulations do technically violate NJSIAA protocol, it seems unlikely that any changes will be made this year. The tournament games are spaced such that no team will violate the three-games-per-week regulation, and no team is in danger of exceeding the 26-game maximum prior to the state tournament.

 

Continue reading for more on the Shore Conference’s hockey history.

History

Traditionally, hockey league cup tournaments are held to determine champions at each skill level. Shore Conference teams first moved from the NJIHL Southern Conference to form their own regular-season league in 2007-08, and they took their cup trophies with them. Shore A teams competed for the Handchen Cup (so named in 1985) and Shore B teams competed for the Dowd Cup (inaugurated in 2002).

The dual-tournament system, with the league’s most competitive teams competing for the Handchen Cup and others vying for the Dowd Cup, continued through 2011-12. Last year, the Shore Conference went away from the hockey model for the first time, awarding the cups on a geographic basis (Handchen to the north, Dowd to the south) rather than a skill-level basis.

That progression, a move often mentioned to me as coming from conference athletic directors rather than from hockey coaches, continued last summer with the move to a single tournament.

Details

Since 27 Shore Conference teams offer varsity hockey, with 26 competing in the tournament (CBA will play in the Gordon Cup, as always), one coach from each division will be part of a seeding committee to select the 16 teams and rank them 1-16. Those decisions will be made on February 10, with the tournament running until February 22. Only the final will be held at a predetermined venue (Middletown Ice World on Feb. 22); the first round, quarterfinals, and semifinals will all be hosted by the higher-seeded team.

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