ST. PAUL — While there are no opponents that could be considered “easy wins” in modern NCAA Division I college hockey, the University of St. Thomas men are not exactly easing into things in the Tommies’ first season at the top level of the game.
They will open the program’s D-I era on Saturday, Oct. 2, with a non-conference game at St. Cloud State. That is the first of 34 games that the Tommies will play in 2021-22, as members of the new incarnation of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. On Thursday, St. Thomas announced 32 of those games, with one non-conference series still to be determined.
The Tommies’ home opener will be Sunday, Oct. 3, completing the home-and-home series with the Huskies with a game at St. Thomas Ice Arena in Mendota Heights. They jump right into CCHA play the following weekend, traveling to the Upper Peninsula for a conference series at Northern Michigan.
“It’s already real. We’re excited about the league schedule, getting back to playing in the CCHA and starting at Northern is obviously going to be a huge test for our program, but an exciting step forward,” said Tommies coach Rico Blasi, who played and coached in the former incarnation of the CCHA during his years at Miami. “We’ll have had a pretty good test beforehand having faced St. Cloud. So we’re excited. We’re moving forward, taking steps every day in our process and looking forward to finally getting on the ice and seeing where we’re at and where we need to go.”
While most of their conference games will be bus trips, the Tommies have two lengthy plane trips featuring climate extremes. St. Thomas has non-conference series on Oct. 29-30 at Arizona State and Feb. 11-12 at Alaska.
Each of the eight CCHA teams will play 26 conference regular season games, followed by league playoffs. After a series at Lake Superior State on Oct. 15-16, the Tommies’ CCHA home opener is Oct. 22-23 versus Ferris State.
For in-state conference rivals, the Tommies will host Bemidji State on Dec. 3-4 and visit the Beavers on Feb. 25-26. They will visit Mankato for their first meeting with Minnesota State on Nov. 18, completing the home-and-home in Mendota Heights on Nov. 20. St. Thomas will host the Mavericks again on Jan. 20, before their outdoor Hockey Day Minnesota matchup with MSU on Jan. 22, at 7,500-seat Blakeslee Stadium.
The Tommies’ longest conference road trip will be Nov. 5-6 for a series at Bowling Green (Ohio). The Falcons come to the Twin Cities on Jan. 7-8. Northern Michigan does not play at St. Thomas next season.
Blasi said he expects to learn much about what he has on the roster right away with the series against SCSU, and looks forward to welcoming the Huskies to the Tommies’ intimate home rink for their first D-I home game.
“We’ve always been of the mindset that you want to play the best, so why not play the best right off the bat,” Blasi said. “Our guys will be excited to play a Division I game, and I know our fans, our alumni and everybody associated with St. Thomas will be excited. And it will give us a gauge of where we need to go.”
The top four CCHA teams at the end of the regular season will play host to best-of-three series in the opening round of the CCHA playoffs on March 4-6. The winners will advance to the semifinals. The semifinals will be played at the respective campus sites of the highest seeded teams on March 12. The top seeded remaining team will play host to the CCHA championship game on March 19. The winner of the CCHA playoffs will receive the Mason Cup and receive an automatic bid to the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
If the Tommies would win the playoff title, they would not be able to advance to the NCAA tournament because they are in a five-year provisional period with the NCAA. It was a condition of their move directly from D-III to D-I.
2021-22 St. Thomas schedule
Home games in BOLD
Oct. 2 — * at St. Cloud State, 6:05 p.m.
Oct. 3 — * ST. CLOUD STATE, 4:37 p.m.
Oct. 8 — at Northern Michigan, 6:07 p.m.
Oct. 9 — at Northern Michigan, 5:07 p.m.
Oct. 15 — at Lake Superior State, 6:07 p.m.
Oct. 16 — at Lake Superior State, 5:07 p.m.
Oct. 22-23 — FERRIS STATE, 7:07 p.m.
Oct. 29-30 — * at Arizona State
Nov. 5-6 — at Bowling Green, 6:07 p.m.
Nov. 18 — at MSU-Mankato, 7:07 p.m.
Nov. 20 — MSU-MANKATO, 7:07 p.m.
Dec. 3-4 — BEMIDJI STATE, 7:07 p.m.
Dec. 10 — at Michigan Tech, 6:07 p.m.
Dec. 11 — at Michigan Tech, 5:07 p.m.
Jan. 7-8 — BOWLING GREEN, 7:07 p.m.
Jan. 14 — at Ferris State, 6:07 p.m.
Jan. 15 — at Ferris State, 5:07 p.m.
Jan. 20 — MSU-MANKATO, 7:07 p.m.
Jan. 22 — at MSU-Mankato (Blakeslee Stadium, Hockey Day Minnesota), 4:30 p.m.
Feb. 4-5 — MICHIGAN TECH, 7:07 p.m.
Feb. 11-12 — * at Alaska, TBA
Feb. 18-19 — LAKE SUPERIOR STATE, 7:07 p.m.
Feb. 25 — at Bemidji State, 7:07 p.m.
Feb. 26 — at Bemidji State, 6:07 p.m.
March 4-6 — CCHA playoffs, best-of-three series at highest seeds
March 12 — CCHA semifinals at highest seeds
March 19 — CCHA championship at highest seed