The men’s hockey teams at Minnesota State Mankato and Bemidji State knew each other well last season, playing five times in a two-month span. So what does the new, COVID-19-impacted season bring the rivals?
Four meetings over the season’s first two weekends.
That’s only one wrinkle of the 2020-21 WCHA men’s schedule announced Wednesday. Along with 18 conference games — one series against each WCHA foe — each team can play up to 10 nonconference games, and the vast majority of those will match WCHA teams. Minnesota State and Bemidji State, for example, will play Nov. 20-21 in Bemidji on the opening weekend, then meet again in Mankato on Nov. 27-28. None of those four games will impact the conference standings.
“This is the new normal with COVID right now,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “… It’s gonna be challenging, but it’s also exciting at the same time. Might as well come out of the blocks playing them.”
The WCHA will be the second conference to open play, following the Big Ten, which starts Nov. 13 but has yet to release a schedule.
“There were several hurdles, and I give all the credit to our staff and our coaches and athletic directors for being able to work together in unison to get this schedule accomplished,” WCHA men’s Commissioner Bill Robertson said. “We are very proud to be the first conference to announce their schedule.”
The nonconference portion for WCHA teams will be played in November and December.
The conference schedule begins Jan. 1, with a couple of exceptions, and will be played through Feb. 28. The final weekend of the regular season, Feb. 24-27, will have teams playing a home-and-home series against their travel partner, including Bemidji State vs. Minnesota State.
March 5-6 is a bye weekend and will be used to make up games that are postponed. The conference tournament format will be announced later, but it will be held on the weekends of March 12-13 and 19-20.
To be determined are exact health, safety and COVID-19 testing protocols.
“We’re working on that diligently and hope to have that completed before teams get ramped up and start playing,” Robertson said of the protocols. “… If we can’t do this safely, we’re not going to be able to do this at all.”
One uncertainty for the WCHA: Will the NCAA Board of Directors recommend or mandate that thrice-weekly testing be used for winter sports?
“The quantity of tests is going to be a big issue,” Robertson said about the possibility of a mandate.
Robertson said the WCHA considered using a “pod” format, like the NCHC will use with its eight teams in Omaha in December, but the cost was too much.
The WCHA Women’s League has yet to announce its 2020-21 schedule.