Column: Hockey seeding left to be desired

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On Thursday, the No. 7 seed Missisquoi and No. 8 Woodstock girls hockey teams will face off the Division II final at Gutterson Fieldhouse at UVM. On the surface, it may look like a pair of teams just getting hot at the right time, with MVU coming in at 9-14 and Woodstock at 8-12-3.

But a little deeper dive shows a failure on the part of the Vermont Principals' Association to seed the tournament correctly, something that made life difficult for coaches around the state.

This year, the VPA decided to separate the 18 girls hockey teams into three tiers — six in Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3.

This arrangement took out many of the blowouts that have permeated girls hockey in Vermont over the years and made things much more competitive. The lowest ranked team, Spaulding, was 2-16-1, but many games were close, including a 1-goal loss to U-32 (seeded third in D-II) and a 2-1 defeat to D-II finalist Missisquoi.

The VPA did a great job making the regular season important and competitive, but when they got to the most important part of the season, the ball was dropped and some very good hockey teams felt the pain from those decisions.

"I think the three tiers was a great advancement for girls hockey," said Burr and Burton coach Ed Lewicki. "It made our season relevant. I just think they need to work better on the seeds after the season."

Things went awry when the playoffs began, thanks to a rule in the VPA bylaws. According to coaches, the VPA doesn't allow less than eight teams in a bracket. If they did, they could have put all of the Tier 1 teams in its own tournament, with six teams, and the teams from Tier 2 and 3, 12 teams, into its own tournament.

What actually happened was all of Tier 1 and the top two teams in Tier 2 in Middlebury and Stowe (eight teams total) went into Division I, the Tigers and Raiders as the last two seeds. For Division II, they took the bottom four out of Tier 2 — Harwood, Champlain Valley, Missisquoi and Woodstock — and the rest of Tier 3, including Burr and Burton (10 teams).

Then the VPA went strictly by index points to distribute the teams.

Coaches, including Lewicki, believed the VPA would ignore any results from Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams playing against Tier 1 teams, then figure out the index points from there.

"The average would be the same and we'd be comparing apples to apples," Lewicki said.

For example, Woodstock and Missisquoi both played seven Tier 1 opponents, losing all seven games. Harwood played six Tier 1 games, all defeats. Burr and Burton played just two, once vs Rice and once vs Rutland, losing each.

"If you threw them out, the average would have been out of 13 games [for MVU and Woodstock] or 14 [for Harwood]. It would be out of 18 for us," Lewicki said.

The biggest problem for coaches was that nothing was set until Feb. 28, just two days before the tournament began.

"Originally, it was going to be split up with nine teams in each division," Lewicki said. "Then we didn't know if they would move three teams up or just two. At the end of the day, we didn't know what the VPA would do."

That put Burr and Burton, who ended the season at 10-8-2 and at the top of Tier 3, with the No. 1 seed in Division II, even with Middlebury and Stowe having better records in a higher tier. Middlebury lost 9-2 to Essex and Stowe lost 1-0 to BFA-St. Albans in its opening playoff games.

It gave BBA had a home game against Woodstock, who knocked the Bulldogs out of the tournament in a 5-1 loss.

"We do the index points for a reason," Lewicki said. "The best two teams are still playing. But Woodstock and Missisquoi were deserving of better seeds."

We feel that the VPA making the change for the regular season to have three tiers for girls hockey was terrific and should continue, as the quality of matchups all over the state are better for it. However, maybe a change in the bylaws regarding postseason play or more thought into how the tournament is seeded is needed to really give the best teams the best chance to prove it when the games are most important.


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