The Big Ten on Tuesday announced that the 2020-21 hockey season is expected to begin on November 13th. They announced their schedule plan for the COVID-19 delayed season which includes a normal 24 game regular season for all seven Big Ten schools. Each team will also play four non-conference home games against the Arizona State Sun Devils—the only non-conference games any Big Ten team will play this season. The 28 game season will culminate in the Big Ten Tournament in March which will be held over one long weekend instead of the prolonged three weekend schedule the last few years.
So what does this mean for Minnesota?
The Minnesota Golden Gophers will in fact play their 100th season of college hockey this year, but it will not include several of the previously schedule regional non-conference opponents. While the Gophers will play all six of their fellow Big Ten schools in a standard two home games and two away games schedules, the only non conference games that any Big Ten team will play this season will be four games at each Big Ten school’s home rink against Arizona State. The Sun Devils reached a scheduling agreement with the Big Ten that will see them playing a 28 game schedule against all Big Ten teams—but they will NOT compete in the Big Ten Tournament at the end of the year.
The Gophers will miss out on non-conference games with regional opponents that would have been easy to bus to. The Gophers were previously schedule for a series in Grand Forks against North Dakota, were to play a home and home series with Bemidji State, and had in-state rivals St. Cloud State and Minnesota State coming to Mariucci for the 2020 Mariucci Classic. All those games are now cancelled.
So why limit the non-conference schedule to just Arizona State? Well the details most likely lie in the COVID protocols that the Big Ten has enacted for all sports. The hockey teams will follow the same protocols set out for the fall sports, most notably football. From the Big Ten Pres release Tuesday afternoon:
Big Ten hockey teams will follow the same medical protocols that were developed by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force and announced on Sept. 16, 2020, including daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition. Arizona State has agreed to adhere to the same testing protocols as the Big Ten Conference.
As a return for Arizona State playing all their games at Big Ten home rinks this season, all seven Big Ten schools have agreed to play at least two road games at Arizona State in the near future. The Sun Devils are scheduled to open a new rink in time for the 2022-23 season.
As for the former Gopher non-conference opponents—it’s a question whether some of the smaller schools would have been able to step up to the Big Ten’s level of testing required. However, this does open up large questions about the women’s WCHA conference as Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State appear to be trying to hold the other four Minnesota state schools in the conference to the same testing standards as the rest of the Big Ten.
Do we have a schedule?
Not yet. That will be released soon by the Big Ten. But it appears it won’t be your typical Friday and Saturday night 7 PM faceoffs as usual. Wisconsin State Journal writer Todd Milewski talked with Wisconsin Badgers head coach Tony Granato, and Granato made it sound like since that schools would not be beholden to the normal game times for the crowds, TV would be a much bigger force in setting up a potential schedule.
With no fans in the building to start, Granato says the B1G scheduling will be different this season without needing to do Friday/Saturday night games for attendance. He says there could be afternoon games, mid-week games to make travel convenient and cost efficient.— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) October 6, 2020
Granato says B1G coaches are hoping that with a flexible schedule they'll get more games on BTN this season.— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) October 6, 2020
I'm sure a lot of college hockey fans hope for the same.
If the college coaches are hoping to get more games on BTN that will mean avoiding typical basketball heavy broadcast windows on BTN. That might mean more Thursday night games, or Friday or Saturday afternoon games to get an open window. Hopefully with no crowds in the arenas at least to start even if BTN can’t pick up games for TV broadcast there will be decent streaming options for all the fans who are stuck at home.
As for Minnesota’s TV situation, expect plenty of BTN games as its been proven that the Gophers get the best ratings on BTN of any of the hockey programs. Hopefully FSN will still look to pick up any potential Gopher home games that BTN doesn’t select, but road games are highly unlikely unless they can broadcast from Minneapolis on a solid video feed. We can all hope that with the lack of fans the conference can upgrade their potential streaming options at the very least...but then again remember who we are talking about here.
The schedule will most likely look very different. Minnesota may for example cut down on the number of road trips and schedule road series around long weeks—for example potentially playing at Michigan on a Friday and Saturday and then at Michigan State the following Wednesday and Thursday. With 18 weeks open to play 14 series, the Big Ten will most likely be creative and also set up a flexible schedule that can be adapted if one team needs tom postpone potential games due to COVID concerns.
The Big Ten Tournament is what now?
The Big Ten to allow the greatest flexibility for the regular season has one again altered the Big Ten Tournament format. The last few seasons the #1 seed had recided a first round bye and watched the rest of the six schools play a best-of thee series to advance to single elimination semifinals on weekend #2 and then a single elimination championship game on weekend #3. Now all of the games will be single elimination and at one yet to be determined site from March 18-20. The #1 seed will still have an opening round bye but the 2vs 7 3vs 6 and 4vs 5 games will now be single games on Thursday with the winners advancing to play in a single semifinal game along with the #1 seed on Friday. Those two winners will face off in a single championship game on Saturday.
Will the Gophers play at Mariucci?
With the lack of fans at games one interesting item that was brought up was a potential that the Gophers could potentially play home games at Ridder Arena and the smaller NHL size ice sheet rather than the Olympic sized sheet at Mariucci. Wisconsin supposedly is trying to decide between playing at the larger sheet at the Kohl Center or the smaller sheet at LaBahn Arena. However, according to Jess Myers of the Rink Live, it sounds like the Gophers will be playing at Mariucci no matter what,
Side note from my conversation with @BMotzko today: with the setup in the big rink for the 100th season of @GopherHockey celebration there are currently no plans to play at Ridder or any other, smaller venue, fans or no fans.— Jess Myers (@JessRMyers) October 7, 2020
It will be a weird season, but at least there will be one and we should all get to see most of it live on our tv screens. As soon as a full date, time and TV schedule is released, we will bring it to you here.