For fans and even some in the media, a team’s schedule announcement has as bit of Christmas morning feel to it. There’s plenty of anticipation, some excitement and even a bit of worry about what kind of gift you’ll get.
Such was the case Thursday, when the Big Ten announced a partial 2020-21 men’s hockey schedule – with games starting Nov. 13 and running through Dec. 20. The puck will drop in one week, and that’s a gift for any college hockey fan in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the Gophers’ case, an eight-game early schedule that starts Nov. 19-20 with a home series against Penn State is a welcome highlight. The Gophers and Nittany Lions were scheduled to meet in the Big Ten tournament semifinals before sports were shut down in March. However, the oddity of a Monday-Tuesday (Nov. 23-24) home series against Ohio State, plus a Tuesday-Wednesday (Dec. 8-9) set at Michigan stood out. There are no Saturday games among the Gophers’ first eight.
It felt a little like getting the G.I. Joe you wanted for Christmas, but he was missing the Kung Fu grip.
Still, if a little inconvenience is the price to pay for the return of college hockey, it’s not too steep.
“There’s going to be nothing normal about this year,’’ Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, “and the quicker you grasp that, the better off you’ll be.’’
Motzko looks at the weekday games as an opportunity for college hockey to grab the spotlight in a way similar to what the Mid-American Conference football does with “MACtion,’’ its scheduling of games throughout the week.
“Saturdays are going to leave a lot for football, and you’re going to see a lot of hockey and basketball played during the other nights,’’ Motzko said. “If we can’t have fans [in the arenas], we’ve gotta get out there, and what a great way to have it happen.’’
The Gophers open with four home games in a six-day span, then play four games in a seven-day stretch with a trip to the Michigan schools. That’s a way to combine trips and save money on travel. Motzko wasn’t sure if that model would follow beginning Jan. 1, when the 20-game bulk of the Gophers schedule is played, but it doesn’t concern him.
“Our guys who have played junior hockey are used to that,’’ Motzko said. “It’s different, but it’s about adjusting.’’
The simple fact that games are about to be played puts Motzko’s mind at ease. Managing a roster and emphasizing measures to avoid COVID-19 comes easier when the players are somewhat sequestered and in a game-week routine.
“The quicker as we can get our guys into a bubble-type situation, the better,’’ he said. “Once we start playing, it’s much easier for us to have – I’ll use the word ‘control.’ Their focus becomes lasered into what we’re doing. We’re really excited to get going here. Let’s get this thing started.’’