College hockey took an important step forward this week with the rollout of a new movement designed to create positive cultural change in the sport through communication, education, allyship, and advocacy.
A group of 27 people representing the 11 Division I hockey conferences began meeting last summer and are leading the College Hockey for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative.
Included in that group is Northeastern athletic director Jeff Konya, who is drawing on his experience from last summer, when the school’s Black student-athletes formed NUBAC — Northeastern’s Black Athlete Caucus — in response to the national outcry over the murder of George Floyd and the movement against racial injustice.
“This is a much needed conversation that has come to the forefront, and it’s getting the attention that it deserves,” said Konya. “I think the reaction of the sporting world, especially the collegiate sporting world, where folks started talking about taking stands, I think is a wonderful thing.”
Konya and six members of the committee took part in a virtual news conference this week introducing the initiative. Brian Smith, associate commissioner for Hockey East, served as the moderator.
Also participating in the news conference was UNH sophomore Nikki Harnett, who plays in goal for the women’s team. Harnett texted her teammates before the season to let them know that she intended to kneel for the national anthem before games, and asked if any of them would be willing to join her.
“I told them that I don’t feel comfortable standing for the national anthem right now because that national anthem doesn’t ring true to everybody that it’s supposed to represent,” said Harnett.
Many of her teammates also have participated as the season has gone on, with about half the team now kneeling. Those who do not put their hands on the shoulders of those who are.
“As an athlete in the LGBTQ+ community and as an ally to people of color, I want to see a change in hockey. Hockey is a predominantly white sport with a history of turning a blind eye toward social injustices, and I want this group to be active in implementing directives that ensure that college hockey is welcoming to everybody.”
The committee meets several times a month to exchange ideas and share concerns. It unveiled its website (collegehockey4DEI.com) earlier this week, where those seeking to learn more and get involved can find resources on how to be an ally and an advocate for bringing change to the sport.
“We are united in our effort to create meaningful change and improve diversity, equity, and inclusion within our sport,” the website reads. “We intend to build upon the work of our institutions and partner with other organizations committed to these efforts to affect change in college hockey so that our sport may become a better version of itself. We will approach this challenging and necessary work just like we play our game: one shift at a time.”
Changes to postseason tournament and seeding format announced
Hockey East is changing its playoff format for the 2021 men’s and women’s tournaments, which will be single elimination, with each game being played at the higher seed.
The league announced the changes Wednesday. The women’s tournament will be up first, with the regular season concluding Feb. 21. Two opening-round games will be played on Feb. 24, with the winners joining the top six in the quarterfinals, which be played Feb. 28. Semifinals will be held March 3, followed by the championship on March 6.
The men’s tournament will begin March 10, with three first-round matchups, followed by the quarterfinals on March 14. The semifinals will be on March 17, with the championship held on March 20.
The league also announced that seeding will be determined by the Hockey East Power Index, which it believes will more accurately rank teams. The system is similar to the formula used to determine the NCAA Tournament field.
“I think it’s the right thing, and the fair thing,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “At the end of the day we all have to make adjustments. We tell our guys, ‘Go win your games. If you win your games no matter who you play against, you’ll be rewarded.’”
The HEPI takes into consideration number of games played, wins and losses in regulation, overtime, and shootouts, and the home-and-away split. It then values wins and losses based on each team’s strength of schedule and their opponents’ strength of schedule. It does not factor in points traditionally earned in the standings table that has been used to seed teams in past seasons.
“I think it’s a really strong effort by the league to show that we’re trying to make this playoff structure work in a way that is fair to all 11 teams,” said Merrimack coach Scott Borek. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
The system was developed to mitigate the effects of an imbalanced schedule, both in terms of number of games played and strength of opponent. Heading into this weekend, the UMass men have played 19 games, while Boston University and Vermont have only played eight. Maine has 10 games in the books, but they have all been on the road. Providence is the only team that has played every other team at least once.
The conference tournament has been traditionally a best of three in the first round and the quarterfinals, with the higher seed in each individual matchup serving as the host, and the semifinals and final held at TD Garden. Boston College had been scheduled to host the women’s tournament in March.
“While we will miss giving our men and women the usual Hockey East Championship weekend experience, we appreciate our partners at TD Garden and friends at Boston College, who were set to host the women’s championship this year, and look forward to returning in 2022,” said commissioner Steve Metcalf.
The 2019-20 season was halted the day before the men’s tournament was set to begin, and the league has made it a priority to crown both a regular season and postseason champion in 2021. The women were able to complete the regular season as well as the conference tournament, with Northeastern taking home both titles.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.