The countdown to the start of the 100th season of Gophers men's hockey is finally official. The 2020-21 season will begin Thursday, Nov. 19, with the opener of a two-game series against Penn State at 3M Arena at Mariucci. After that, the Big Ten has thrown a COVID-19-related curveball.
The Big Ten on Thursday announced a partial schedule covering November and December for the upcoming season. For the Gophers, it comes with some twists.
"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."
The abnormal — straying from the typical Friday-Saturday series — includes:
• Minnesota will have a quick turnaround after its opening set. The Gophers' second home series will be Nov. 23-24, a Monday and a Tuesday, against Ohio State.
• The Gophers will have two road series in the first portion of the schedule: Dec. 3-4 (Thursday-Friday) at Michigan State and Dec. 8-9 (Tuesday-Wednesday) at Michigan. Motzko said the team will remain in Michigan between the series.
"Cost savings," he said. "If you're going to go out, play four games."
• That leaves the Gophers with no Saturday games among the first eight of the season. Their final 20 games, along with starting times, TV assignments and Big Ten tournament details, will be announced later. There is a possibility that games will be played on weekday afternoons, not just evenings.
"One, it's a challenge for everybody," Motzko said of the schedule. "Two, this gives the Big Ten Network and other television outlets that do our games more inventory vs. always fighting over Friday and Saturday nights. With a lot of our guys — almost all of them — doing online classes, you have the ability to do that."
Tickets for Gophers home games in the first portion of the schedule will not be available because Minnesota Department of Health guidelines specify that indoor venues must reduce capacity to no more than 250.
The opener will provide the Gophers an opportunity to pick up where the 2019-20 season left off when the NCAA shut down sports on March 12. They were scheduled to play at Penn State in a Big Ten tournament semifinal. Now, the initial puck drops against the defending regular-season conference champions.
"To finally put a date and a team behind it, especially Penn State … that adds a little juice to it," Motzko said. "We announced it on the ice, and the sticks went clapping. There's excitement, no question."
The Big Ten season begins next week, with Wisconsin visiting Notre Dame on Nov. 13-14 and Arizona State starting its 28-game, all-road schedule at Michigan on Nov. 14-15. Big Ten teams will follow the same medical protocols used in football, including daily antigen testing and enhanced cardiac screening. Arizona State has agreed to adhere to the same testing protocols as the Big Ten.
"It's different," Motzko said of the season, "but it's about adjusting.''