The Wichita Thunder's chances of finally returning to the playoffs improved when Kevin McClelland, a proven winner, was hired as coach in late April.
And those postseason odds improved even more on Wednesday when the Central Hockey League announced its new come-one, come-all playoff format.
Sixteen of 18 teams will qualify for the postseason.
CHL president Duane Lewis said he anticipates there will be "naysayers" to the change, necessitated by the recent addition of five International Hockey League teams to the CHL.
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But he defended the playoff format, saying it eliminates unwanted byes and play-in rounds. (Last year, 10 of 15 teams qualified, with two reaching via a best-of-three games play-in, Lewis said.)
In addition, Lewis said it will allow for "more interaction among teams who don't see each other during the regular season."
Lewis also said that having 16 teams reach the playoffs helps the CHL achieve its goal as a developmental league.
"We'll have more players, coaches and officials getting playoff exposure, and that's
important for their growth," Lewis said.
Thunder general manager Joel Lomurno was one of two team representatives to vote against the plan. He supported a 12-team playoff, with byes for the top teams.
"To me, 16 may be a couple too many teams," Lomurno said.
However, he sees the benefits of so many teams reaching the postseason.
"Your fans are a lot happier in the offseason knowing that you made the playoffs," he said.
Wichita hockey fans haven't known that happy feeling since 2005-06, the last time the Thunder advanced.
McClelland, a former CHL coach of the year, was non-committal when asked his opinion of the new format.
"I'm not used to that many teams making it; it's a lot," he said. "I think it could lead to a lot of good upsets in the first rounds."