Does SCSU's Olympic-sized rink hurt the Huskies come NCAAs?
Three of the five biggest upsets in NCAA tournament history—judged by the difference in Pairwise Ranking—have been St. Cloud State losses in the last four years.
The Huskies lost to Pairwise No. 27 Air Force in the first round last year. They lost to Pairwise No. 30 Ferris State in 2016. And on Friday night in Scheels Arena, they lost to Pairwise No. 31 American International, which was playing in its first-ever NCAA tournament game.
These upset losses have happened to different Husky teams and under different coaching staffs.
That begs the question: Why does this keep happening to St. Cloud State?
Is it a fluke? Or is there something more to it?
Those questions will be impossible to definitively answer, but here's one fact: St. Cloud State plays its home games on a different sized rink than the NCAA tournament.
St. Cloud State's home of the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center is an Olympic-sized rink—200 feet long and 100 feet wide.
Most college hockey arenas (and those that host NCAA tournament games) are played on NHL-sized sheets—200 feet long and 85 feet wide.
This season, St. Cloud State went 21-0-1 on Olympic ice sheets and 9-6-2 on NHL-sized sheets. Some of those losses included unsightly ones—a 7-2 defeat to Union, a 5-1 loss to North Dakota and Friday's 2-1 loss to the Yellow Jackets.
There's no question the Huskies have been better on the big sheet of ice, but that's not where the NCAAs are played.
In the past, the NCAA tournament used venues with Olympic-sized ice sheets like Minnesota's Mariucci Arena and Colorado College's World Arena. But the tournament has been played exclusively on NHL sheets since 2010, and ice size is something that's considered when bids are submitted for regionals.
No school that uses an Olympic-sized rink at home has won an NCAA national championship since Minnesota in 2003. Wisconsin uses and Olympic hybrid—not quite 100 feet wide, but closer to Olympic than NHL—and won a national title in 2006.
Every NCAA title team since then—13 years and counting—has been a team that plays on an NHL sheet.
Part of the reason is simply not that many teams have Olympic-sized rinks anymore. It's down to St. Cloud State, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Colorado College, Northern Michigan, Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage.
Wisconsin and UMass use Olympic hybrids.
No Olympic-sized rinks have been built since Northern Michigan's Berry Events Center in 1999. When Colorado College builds Robson Arena, it will ditch the Olympic sheet for an NHL one.
It's impossible to know whether St. Cloud State's record disparity between Olympic and NHL sheets is due to a style of play and what they're used to or whether it simply comes down to a home and road split. Most college hockey teams are better at home.
There's no way of answering the question whether St. Cloud State's NCAA struggles are due to the fact that they have to play on a different rink than their home, but it's a question worth pondering.