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NCAA regionals off day draws mixed, but mostly positive, reviews in year one

The Gophers rested. The Wolverines played games. The Mavericks had almost too much rest. But all three won their regionals after college hockey added an off day this season for the first time.

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Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings (center) gives instructions to his players during Friday's practice in preparation for the NCAA East Regional and the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence, R.I. Shane Frederick / Mankato Free Press
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WORCESTER, Mass. – Filed under “things you learn when traveling” is this nugget discovered last weekend during the NCAA’s quartet of men’s hockey regionals: Saturday is apparently prime time for bowling leagues in the greater Allentown, Pennsylvania, region.

In 2022, for the first time since the NCAA went to a regional system for the college hockey playoffs 30 years ago (the Minnesota Gophers played their first regional site game in 1992 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit) they were held over three days, with an off day between the first round and the regional championship game.

It was an idea with some growing momentum, but after the 2021 playoffs, well-known coaches like Minnesota’s Bob Motzko and North Dakota’s Brad Berry were vocal advocates for an extra day. Last season Berry’s team fell in the Fargo Regional final to Minnesota Duluth with the Bulldogs scoring in the fifth overtime. There was some “what if” discussion about, had that been a first-round game, how could the winning team have been expected to come back less than 24 hours later and play for a trip to the Frozen Four.

The Gophers lost to Minnesota State Mankato in the 2021 Loveland Regional after having played the late game the night before and coming back on less than 24 hours rest to play their biggest game of the season. In the interest of competition and player safety, the change was made over the summer to build in an off day, similar to what happens at the Frozen Four with semifinal games on Thursday and the title game on Saturday.

After four regionals have been played with four off days built in, the reaction from the coaches has been mostly positive. Although Michigan’s Mel Pearson admitted finding ways for his team to occupy its time in Allentown last Saturday was tougher than expected.

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“I’m not trying to put a plug in, but Dave & Buster’s,” Pearson said, with a grin in reference to the entertainment center chain where the Wolverines killed a few hours. “There wasn’t as much as we thought in Allentown, the weather wasn’t great for getting outside, all the bowling alleys were full – the leagues were all fired up on Saturday, I guess – so the guys took over Dave & Buster’s.”

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Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko gives his players instructions during a time out against Ferris State in the first period of an NCAA Men's Hockey game at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis on Saturday Dec. 29, 2018. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

In Albany, the Mavericks used the time between wins over North Dakota and Notre Dame to rest, but may have almost had too much down time.

“I liked it, and not just because we moved on. We’ve seen before how the regionals can get extended, especially if there’s overtime,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “Ours was a little unique because we played a noon game … so we had a little extra time after the game to recover and guys got a good night’s sleep. So we were able to have a really good practice on that off day and I thought that prepared us mentally and physically for the game on Saturday.”

After their dramatic overtime win over UMass on Friday, Gophers captain Ben Meyers was asked how the team would spend the off day. He didn’t get a chance to answer.

“I’ll take that one,” Motzko said. “We’re going to rest.”

The Gophers practiced and did not do much else on Saturday. They were in good shape physically for their 3-0 win over Western Michigan in the final the next day.

“I will say now, I like the day off in between. I thought that helped for sure,” Motzko said after the win.

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If there was one concern created by the off day, it is with attendance. The regionals, with a few exceptions, have not been anywhere near sold out for years, and when they are three-day events, that means another day off work and another hotel night for fans who might travel. As much as his team liked returning to their campus with a trophy and an all-expenses paid trip to Boston ahead, Pearson admitted that he’s not giving the off day a full endorsement just yet.

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“I’m still not sure, and we won,” Pearson said. “We’re so used to playing back-to-back and there are situations where overtime comes into play or a late game where you have to come back. I’m not sure. I didn’t mind it, but it did seem like we were there for a long time. We fly in on Tuesday and we end up getting home late Sunday night, so it seemed like a long trip.”

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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