By Mike Mullally, AHAI Director
QUESTION: I have heard a lot of different things about the USA Hockey National Championships’ “at large” bids, and was wondering if you could explain how that works?
ANSWER: The USA Hockey national tournament committee, having 16 slots, and only 12 Districts, looks for 4 “at large” bids for the AAA level each year. The District champions go to Nationals automatically. The USA Hockey tournament committee then fills out the field, looking for the best (or the ones they think are the best) teams that might be next in line, or the next best teams to fill out the tournament. Because Illinois is not its own district (Minnesota, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York are affiliates and their own districts), our teams must compete in a District Championship after the state championship; there are 12 districts and 16 slots. Thus, occasionally one of Illinois’ very competitive teams may get knocked out at districts. Therefore, the national tournament committee occasionally looks to the Central District for an “at large” team to fill in at Nationals. That is why there are “at large” bids at the Tier I level.
For Tier II we have no such restriction, as all affiliate champions (34 teams at each age level) are taken to nationals. Tier II nationals are in 3 divisions – 1A, 2A and 3A. They are grouped by the size of the affiliate. Illinois is considered a large affiliate so we are always in the 3A division. This year the USA Hockey national tournament committee was looking for a 1A and 2A team (the smaller affiliates). The 3A division is always filled so there are typically no “at large” bids, unless a team drops out of attending nationals. In the past some teams have dropped out of nationals, and the tournament committee has come to Illinois looking for a team, and even then, the national tournament committee does not always look for the next best team as they do at the Tier I AAA level, but may look for an area that is “under represented” at Tier II nationals.