Over the past four weeks, college hockey's three western men's conferences have revealed plans for their 2020-21 seasons, with the Big Ten and NCHC announcing their formats and start dates, and the WCHA last week announcing its schedule.
While there hasn’t been an announcement about women’s college hockey, one is coming soon.
Jennifer Flowers, WCHA Women’s League commissioner, said she is hopeful there will be some scheduling news from the conference by the end of the week.
“We’ve made some really good progress, and we are very hopeful of being on the ice in November,’’ Flowers said, declining to give specifics.
The schedule, however, might not look like it usually does. In large part because of differences in COVID-19 testing protocols between the WCHA’s three Big Ten teams (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State) and its four members of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato and St. Cloud State), the season might start with games pitting Big Ten teams vs. Big Ten teams and NSIC teams vs. NSIC teams.
“It won’t be a complete schedule,’’ Flowers said. “We’ve broken it down and tried to address what we can address given the information we have. We’ve talked a lot about just focusing on getting started. Sometimes if you work to solve the entire puzzle, you don’t get started on the puzzle. We’re going to break it down a bit because there are some things that continue to evolve.’’
In its return-to-play protocols that started with football and extended to winter sports such as men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s hockey, the Big Ten requires daily antigen testing. Teams from the NSIC, an NCAA Division II conference that doesn’t have the resources of the Big Ten, face challenges in meeting the NCAA’s recommendations proposed in September that athletes be tested three times a week during the season.
“That certainly got the attention of athletic directors at our level because most of us are still trying to figure out how we’re going to do one-time-a-week testing in terms of how to execute it and how to afford it,” Minnesota State Mankato athletic director Kevin Buisman told the Star Tribune in October.
Regarding COVID-19 testing differences between Big Ten and NSIC members of the WCHA, Flowers said, “It’s not been a secret that we’ve been coming from different places. The one thing I’m most proud of is just how committed everyone has been to our league and doing what’s best for the women and all seven of our institutions.’’
Gophers women’s coach Brad Frost welcomed the developments, though nothing has been finalized.
“When you don’t have a start date and don’t have a weekend when you know you’re playing games, it’s always, ‘When’s it going to happen, is it going to happen?’ ’’ Frost said. “… We’re just looking forward to an announcement soon that says, ‘Here’s when we’re starting’ and we get going.’’
The women’s hockey season usually starts in late September, so by this weekend teams will have missed out on seven weeks of play. A November start becomes more important to get in a meaningful regular season, because conference tournaments typically start in late February and the NCAA tournament concludes in late March.
“We feel generally very positive about the fact that we need to take advantage of the opportunities we have to be on the ice,’’ Flowers said. “While it may not look exactly how we all want it to, the end result is still our young women getting a chance to compete.’’
Wisconsin No. 1, Gophers No. 4 in preseason poll
Wisconsin is No. 1 and the Gophers are No. 4 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine preseason women’s poll released Tuesday.
The Badgers received nine of 19 first-place votes and 178 points to take the top spot ahead of Cornell (seven first-place votes, 153 points), Northeastern (two and 149) and Minnesota (one and 140). Ohio State is No. 5 and Minnesota Duluth is No. 8, giving the WCHA three of the top five teams and four of the top eight.