It felt like an eternity but they are finally here. Both the Big Ten and the Women’s WCHA released the second half of their schedules this week, letting fans of the #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s team and the #2 women’s team know who and when they will be playing in 2021.
The Gopher men will restart their season in a Sunday/Monday series January 3rd and 4th with their first series against non-conference foe Arizona State at Mariucci Arena. A reminder that all seven Big Ten teams are playing four home series against the Sun Devils this year in a schedule sharing agreement. This actually works out as good as possible for Minnesota who should still be missing their top three defensemen—Ryan Johnson, Jackson LaCombe, and Brock Faber who are in Edmonton with the US World Juniors Team until that Monday or Tuesday and thus they will not miss any more conference games.
The Gophers will hit the road the following Saturday/Sunday to Madison for their first Big Ten series of 2021 against the Wisconsin Badgers. The Gophers will play ten straight weekends to get the season in. finishing the regular season in what will be a much anticipated series at home against the Michigan Wolverines. The good news is that unlike the early portion of the season where game days were all mixed up through out the week, it appears in the second half the schedule will get much closer to normal. With the exception of the Monday game against Arizona State and a Thursday game also against the Sun Devils later in January, all of Minnesota’s 2021 games will be on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. In fact after that last Thursday/Friday series against ASU on January 21 and 22, the Gophers will finish their last six series of the regular season on the traditional Friday/Saturday dates.
While Minnesota will play ten weeks in a row, the Big Ten has intentionally left open the weekend of March 12-14 in case games are needed to be made up before the seven teams travel to one as yet to be determined location for the Big Ten Tournament the following weekend. As of now the Big Ten standings will be decided as originally planned with total points determining the winner and tournament seeding, but if games are needed to be cancelled that could still be changed. The full schedule is below:
Meanwhile, the way that the Women’s WCHA works it’s standings has been changed. Due to Wisconsin missing three weekends of the regular season in December, and Ohio State missing two, it’s not possible for all seven WCHA teams to get in a full 24 games as originaly planned. This the conference’s seven teams will play a range of number of conference games. The Badgers will only play 16 WCHA games, while Minnesota State Mankato will play 22. The Gophers and four other teams will all play 20 regular season games, and Ohio State will play just 18.
With only 20 regular season games it’s apparent that Minnesota will not play a full double round-robin schedule as originally planned, but a deeper dive makes it even more interesting. Minnesota will only play one two-game series against three of the four NSIC teams in the conference. Minnesota already swept Minnesota-State Mankato in a home and home series to close out the 2020 portion of the schedule. That series was hastily added after Ohio State canceled a series against Minnesota and Bemidji State canceled a series against MSU-M. The Gophers will also play one single home and home series against St. Cloud State, and just a single road series in Bemidji against the Beavers.
Minnesota will play their second series of the year against UMD to open 2021 when the Bulldogs come to Ridder Arena in a Monday/Tuesday series January 4th and 5th. Then things will get interesting. The Gophers will play Wisconsin and Ohio State four times in a month in the end of January and early February. The Gophers will hit the road for back to back trips to Madison and Columbus to close out January and then will return home to host the same two teams on back to back weekends to open February.
If you were wondering, wait, didn’t Minnesota already play Ohio State twice this season, you would be correct. The Gophers will have an extra two games against the Buckeyes this season under this quirky scheduling operation. Not the fairest schedule in the world, but it’s a pandemic...what ya gonna do.
Thus, due to the difference in games played for all of the teams, the WCHA standings will no longer be determined by total points, but by total points percentage. Thus Minnesota who’s 15 points led the conference through eight games still leads the WCHA at the moment with a total points percentage of .833. The question will be whether those extra two games against Ohio State could hurt Minnesota depending on how they fair while Wisconsin will play just 14 more conference games in 2021 including just one series against the #4 team in the league in UMD.
While not yet officially announced, it is expected that the WCHA Frozen Faceoff will be played at Ridder Arena from March 5-7 will all seven teams playing in one location over three days.
The full Gopher women’s 2nd half schedule is below:
No information on game times or TV was released by either of the conferences this week. You can expect that the men’s games will still be aired mostly on BTN with some Fox Sports North games thrown in as well, especially if the NHL season continues to be delayed.