As our weird 2020 keeps rolling on and we slowly turn another page closer to the winter sports season, it’s becoming time to try and figure out what may happen with those potential games. Both Men’s and Women’s hockey are weird sports as that they are classified as “winter” sports, but start their season in the middle of fall. In a normal year the Gopher women would be kicking off the season four weeks from Friday with the men just a week behind. Obviously that’s not going to happen.
But when will we potentially see college hockey? Will it be in home arenas? Is there a potential of a bubble? While there are no answers of yet, an article by Todd Milewski of the Wisconsin State Journal makes it clear that at least the decision makers are talking about all potential options.
While the bulk of the article is covering the Wisconsin Badgers first practice of the season that happened on Wednesday, he does discuss what he is hearing from people both in the Big Ten and the women’s WCHA in regards to season options. It sounds like we may know sooner rather than later when a season might start, and what it might look like. Like mid-September soon.
One potential possibility for the Big Ten and the Minnesota Golden Gophers men’s team would be to play in a conference bubble. As Milewski states in the article, the Big Ten has been talking about the potential of this option for some time.
While the idea of playing conference games inside a bubble has been floated recently in the larger college men’s hockey leagues, the Big Ten has been talking about the concept for months.
One idea discussed, according to sources, was for each of the seven Big Ten teams to play eight to 10 games over two to three weeks at one location. Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena checks a lot of boxes because it has two rinks, is in a central location for the league and has hotels nearby.
Teams could play games in the bubble that would eliminate their longer road trips later in the season. Concern about athletes being off campus for a long stretch has been muted by the move to online classes at schools.
A seven team bubble in South Bend would be weird, but it could definitely happen. For Minnesota fans this is probably not their favorite option because unless you could count on BTN covering all the Minnesota games, which if you are trying to do this the same time as a basketball season is not going to happen, then you will end up with a lot less coverage that you are typically used to. We all know that unfortunately like the NBA and the NHL where almost every single game was televised in the bubble, it probably won’t be as likely that college hockey will have the same resources. But I do suppose if you could get a decent video feed out of the arena that FSN North might pick up some of the games and broadcast from their studio back in Minneapolis. Worst case scenario you get a video feed with no commentary that Wally and Frank are using for their broadcast as well back in their studio in Minnesota.
A better option may exist though. As Milewski says, Big Ten coaches would prefer to use the bubble as a last resort. They only want to do for that option if using their own buildings isn’t an option. One potential other option according to sources Milewski talked to would be to play games in home arenas, but as a way to cut down on travel you would play more games against closer opponents. Yes, that means a supersized Border Battle between the Gophers and the Badgers is definitely one possibility, along with more games in the battle of Michigan. Where that leaves Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame is a question—though Madison and South Bend are not that far a drive. In this scenario, the Gophers and Penn State would actually be the outliers—Minnesota doesn’t have another school other than Wisconsin less that a 7 hour drive away while Penn State would have a five hour trek to Ohio State and just over six to Michigan.
As for the women, if anything the travel is significantly easier in the WCHA. Only Ohio State would not be able to make the easy drive to road games. Minnesota has five of their six opponents within a four hour drive as it’s very easy to get to Madison, Duluth, Bemidji, St. Cloud or Mankato for the Gophers. This probably makes a bubble environment unlikely. But the question of what will the rest of the conference do with the Buckeyes is definitely still open.
As for start dates, the time that you see most often discussed is the week of Thanksgiving. For schools that are having students on campus, they all are leaving for Thanksgiving break and not returning until 2021. This gives the campuses a pseudo bubble environment with just athletes on campus. It’s possible that college hockey may wait until after January 1st to match up with a lot of the schools on the east coast who have already made the decision to cancel all activities until the end of the year, but I suspect that if an earlier start is possible, both the Big Ten and WCHA will not hesitate to go for it.
Minnesota should begin to practice together next week once classes officially start at the U. Teams are allowed four hours of ice time a week until the official season starts—which would have been September 25th for the women and October 3rd for the men.
We will keep you updated with the plans for the season as soon as they are publicized.