M. HOCKEY | NCAA tournament comes to Connecticut

The men’s hockey team still has a way to go, but if all goes well, the No. 11 Bulldogs could find themselves in a dream situation come NCAA playoff time this season.

Yale (19-6-2, 14-4-2 ECAC) and Fairfield universities will be co-hosting the 2009 NCAA Men’s Hockey East Regionals on March 27 and 28 at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.

If the Elis make the NCAA tournament, they would be guaranteed a pair of opening-road home games merely a short drive from Ingalls Rink. (Tournament host teams are automatically placed in their respective regions if they are selected as one of the 16 Division I hockey teams to make the tournament.)

Yale and Fairfield were awarded bids for both the 2009 and 2011 East Regionals back in 2005. Since then, the tournament co-chairs — Wayne Dean, the senior associate director of marketing and ticket operations at Yale, and Pat Murphy, the senior associate director of athletics at Fairfield — have been busy preparing for the tournament.

After planning the big picture, including facilities, hotels and transportation, Wayne said the planning committee was now fine-tuning minor details.

“It’s down to the nitty-gritty now,” he said.

According to Wayne, about 3,300 of the total 8,000 all-session tickets have been sold so far. Once the tournament teams are announced March 22, the tickets will sell out very soon, Wayne predicted.

Each tournament team is given 400 tickets, but schools have the option of requesting more tickets. The director of marketing for the Athletics Department, Patrick O’Neill, promised that the University would make tickets readily available if the Elis were to make the tournament.

“Anytime a Yale sports team has made the playoffs hosting in the area, we’ve made every effort to get students to those events,” he said.

O’Neill cited the 2001-2002 National Invitation Tournament for basketball at the New Haven Coliseum as one such instance, when Yale subsidized student ticket costs.

But while athletic administrators plan out tickets and logistics of the tournament, Yale players still have some work of their own.

After the Bulldogs play Cornell and Colgate this weekend, Yale will compete in the ECAC tournament in a best-of-three series on March 13 to 15 after a first-round bye.

Six teams are awarded automatic bids to the tournament for winning their respective conference tournaments, while the other 10 teams are at-large selections.

Similar to NCAA basketball, a selection committee selects which at-large teams make the tournament, and also determines each team’s seeding.

U.S. College Hockey Online’s Pairwise Rankings — a computer program that compares each team head-to-head in a variety of statistical categories, and ultimately comes up with a ranking based on a ladder system — have historically been a indicator of which teams will make the tournament, since they are modeled after the system the tournament selection committee uses.

A place in the top 16 of the Pairwise Rankings — which run up until the end of conference tournaments — likely means that teams will get a tournament bid. The Bulldogs currently sit in 12th place in the PWR.

This is the first time the NCAA East Regionls have ever been hosted in Connecticut.

For Director of Sports Publicity and a life-long Connecticut hockey fan Steve Conn, this tournament will be especially meaningful. Conn has seen a variety of Nutmeg State teams fold over the years, including the Hartford Whalers, previously part of NHL.

“It’s been such a stronghold of certain areas getting the regionals in recent years,” Conn said, citing Boston, New Hampshire, Michigan, and Minnesota as perennial hosts. “Now to have it go into Connecticut, to have such a change, is a great thing.”

The NCAA tournament selection show will air on ESPNU on Sunday, March 22, the day after the ECAC tournament final in Albany, N.Y.

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