In what was just another sports story for an insanely busy day in Minnesota Golden Gophers athletics, the eleven men’s and women’s college hockey conferences released a joint statement that announced that the college hockey season that was originally slated to begin in late September for the women and early October for the men will be indefinitely postponed due to the impact that COVID-19 continues to have across the country.
The eleven Division I men’s and women’s ice hockey conferences represented by the HCA announced that the start of the 2020-21 Division I college hockey season will be delayed due to the impact of COVID-19. | https://t.co/CZ4i0baT6f— Big Ten Hockey (@B1GHockey) September 10, 2020
#B1GHockey x #NCAAHockey x #UnitedAsOne pic.twitter.com/gIcTL7LKOJ
Both Bob Motzko and Brad Frost released statements of disapointment, but understanding of the situation.
While the official joint statement did not have a proposed start date, the NCHC did state in it’s version of the statement that they hoped to begin play in late-November. This trends with what has been rumored for some time that the various college hockey programs were looking to a potential start around Thanksgiving and using the faux bubble that would be set up on college campuses when normal students went home after Thanksgiving for the remainder of the semester and only the athletes remained.
Additionally some of the larger conferences, i.e. the Big Ten have discussed trying to mirror the start of the college hockey season with the start of the college basketball season during the opening of the faux bubble in late November.
Each conference is expected to come out with their own return to play plan, though it does appear that the conferences are discussing plans with each other to ensure some form of a competitive season is played by all that would allow for an NCAA Tournament to take place at the end of the season. While some conferences are rumored looking at playing a conference only schedule like Hockey East, it’s been generally rumored that the schools that comprise the Big Ten, NCHC, and WCHA would be looking to play more of a regional format that may encompass games across conferences. Minnesota would obviously have a much lessened travel burden playing fellow Minnesota schools such as UMD, St Cloud State and Mankato then to worry about flights to Columbus and Happy Valley.
On the women’s side, the WCHA also seems to be looking at that late November start date. Obviously for a majority of the conference travel is fairly easy by bus between Minneapolis, Bemidji, St. Cloud, Duluth, Mankato and even Madison. The Ohio State Buckeyes would be the one outlier which would need to figure out potential travel arrangements and vice versa. It appears testing still is an issue for the WCHA member schools according to WCHA Women’s Commissioner Jennifer Flowers:
More from Flowers on the women's WCHA: "The biggest sticking point remains testing across the league. We've got to get that figured out before we can worry about what date we're going to play hockey."— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) September 10, 2020
Obviously Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State have a more robust testing protocol set up via their position in the Big Ten than do the other four schools who are Division II members in all other sports than hockey.
Flowers also stated that all of the college hockey programs have come together to ask the NCAA to push back the various NCAA Tournaments in the hopes that a more robust season could occur later in the year without the time pressure of a set NCAA Tournament in March.
I asked the WCHA's Jennifer Flowers about the potential for the NCAA moving back championships because of the season delay. She said there's consensus that leagues and teams want that but there hasn't been any indication of traction on the idea with the NCAA. pic.twitter.com/4S3Eiyz6nM— Todd Milewski (@ToddMilewski) September 10, 2020
As the season gets pushed back dealing with COVID impacts on campus will be something all schools will need to deal with. Michigan saw their voluntary workouts suspended due to quarantine issues back in late July. Just two days ago Wisconsin announced that their football and hockey teams would be taking a mandated two week break from activities due to COVID infections in those programs.
Wisconsin announced a pause on football and men’s hockey workouts following a round of COVID-19 testing late last night: https://t.co/gJxvtF4BVe— Joey Kaufman (@joeyrkaufman) September 10, 2020
Granato said he couldn't confirm how many members of the Badgers men's hockey team had tested positive for COVID-19 but said there was a "spike, just like what's going on in our community." https://t.co/m0lcni0kaL— Wisconsin State Journal (@WiStateJournal) September 10, 2020
Minnesota has not yet publicly stated that they have had to alter any activities as of yet. However the Gophers did announce on Thursday that they will play the season (if there is one) in front of limited or no fans at Mariucci and Ridder Arena. The Gophers have officially cancelled all 2020-2021 season tickets for both the men’s and women’s program and plan on abiding by the current State of Minnesota regulations that state indoor activities can only have a max of 250 people present. The release did state that if that number would increase there is a potential that tickets could be distributed on a game by game basis, but with all that is going on that would appear to not be terribly likely. In any case it will be a very weird and disappointing season for the U who was planning on going all out to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Gopher hockey this season. Obviously all the pomp and circumstance has been taken out of the occasion—but hopefully the hockey itself will still remain—but delayed.