Gophers men’s hockey fans — at least the rational ones — can relax. All the angst over how Minnesota’s schedule could look next season, its first in the Big Ten, proved to be wasted energy when the actual document was released Wednesday.
We already knew old WCHA rival North Dakota wouldn’t be on the schedule. What we didn’t know was what impact the Big Ten Network would have on the conference schedule.
The Gophers will play 20 games against conference foes, and eight of the 10 series are scheduled to be played on Friday-Saturday nights. Minnesota has one Thursday-Friday series and another Sunday-Monday series. The worry that there would be a significant number of games on odd days to fit TV time slots was, at least for this year, muted.
“It’s not just our sport. TV is a driving force in all sports now that are on, and we understand that and accept that,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “From our standpoint, it worked out well. Our only Sunday-Monday [series], we’re on the road at Penn State, and it’s during break so we won’t miss any school.”
Lucia did say some Friday home games could be 8 p.m. starts — as opposed to the more customary 7 p.m. — to accommodate BTN doubleheaders, but added Saturday games likely won’t get the same treatment.
The Gophers will play eight games against Minnesota teams — series against Bemidji State, Minnesota State and Minnesota-Duluth and a two-day tournament at Xcel Energy Center Jan. 24-25 featuring St. Cloud State, MSU and UMD in which the Gophers are guaranteed to face SCSU. Last year, the Gophers played 10 regular-season games against Minnesota schools.
“That was a priority,” Lucia said. “The other schools in the state were appreciative and want to maintain that rivalry. We’re unique in our state, and it was important for us to do that.”
To recap: Only two schedule quirks with conference series; some later Friday start times; and nearly as many games against Minnesota foes as last year. Grumbling over Big Ten hockey is still fair game; grumbling over the schedule, though, can cease.