BEMIDJI -- Finally, the Bemidji State men’s hockey team knows when its 2020-21 season will start.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association released a modified schedule for the 2020-21 season Wednesday, with regular-season play beginning Nov. 20. The start of the season, which was originally set for Oct. 3, has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Beavers are scheduled to open a 26-game schedule with eight nonconference games against regional WCHA opponents. The first is a home series Nov. 20-21 against Minnesota State that is followed by a return trip to Mankato the following weekend, Nov. 27-28. Those games, as well as December series against Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech, will not count towards the league standings.
Each WCHA team will play a single series against the other nine league schools for a total of 18 league games. Conference play will begin Jan. 1-2 for BSU when Alaska Anchorage pays its final scheduled visit to Bemidji before the program folds at the conclusion of the season.
The regular season will conclude with a pair of games against the Mavericks on Feb. 25 and 27. The first game will be in Mankato and the second in Bemidji.
The March 5-6 weekend has been left open for teams to make up games that could be postponed for COVID-19 reasons.
The WCHA playoffs will begin March 12-13 and conclude March 19-20. The format of the tournament has yet to be determined.
Game times have not yet been announced.
Whether fans will be permitted to attend BSU home games remains unknown. A BSU news release said that “more information on the opportunities to see the Beavers play in 2020-21 will be announced soon.”
In addition to local and state health and safety guidelines, programs will follow the WCHA’s Return to Competition protocols, which include COVID-19 testing for players, coaches, staff and game officials, as well as social-distancing requirements at all WCHA arenas.
FloHockey.tv will stream all WCHA games.
‘Now we know’
The prospect of games on the calendar is a welcome sight for head coach Tom Serratore and the Beavers.
“We’ve had a good idea for a while what we were going to do, but you need to get everything in place, you need to get certains things approved and you go from there,” Serratore said. “It’s nice to put closure to it. … Now we know there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
The WCHA is the first men’s hockey conference to announce its 2020-21 schedule, though other conferences have already revealed their plans for the season. The Big Ten and Atlantic Hockey aim to begin play the weekend of Nov. 13, and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference plans for its teams to play 10 games over three weeks at a “pod” in Omaha this December before returning to a more normal schedule in January.
Programs are limiting travel as much as possible because of the pandemic, which is why Bemidji State will see travel partner Minnesota State four times in the first two weeks of the season, as well as the two next closest league foes geographically in Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech.
“What a difficult nonconference schedule, holy moly,” Serratore said. “Initially we were supposed to be playing North Dakota, (Minnesota) Duluth, St. Cloud (State) and Minnesota. This obviously, too, is a grind. … We’re going to find out a lot about our team early.”
The WCHA’s top two teams will square off for the first time since the race for the MacNaughton Cup came down to the final game of the regular season last February. Both teams are ranked in the USCHO preseason poll with the Mavericks at No. 4 and the Beavers at No. 16.
“We had great battles with them last year,” Serratore said. “It’s exciting to keep that rivalry going. We’re going to be seeing a lot of each other this year. We’re going to be playing each other six times.”
Attempts to schedule NCHC opponents were unsuccessful due to the league opting to play conference games in Omaha, Serratore said. College hockey’s other western conference, the Big Ten, is playing a league-only schedule.
Alabama Huntsville and Bowling Green are the only WCHA schools scheduled to face teams from outside the league.
The Beavers have been practicing at the Sanford Center this fall while awaiting news on the start of the season. The team was initially only able to practice in two separate groups, but is now able to practice together due to the COVID-19 testing protocol in place.
Surveillance testing of one-third of the team and staff has been taking place each week. Testing will increase to once per week for each team and staff member beginning next week, Serratore said.
The 2020-21 season will be the last as WCHA members for Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Ferris State, Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech, Minnesota State and Northern Michigan. The seven schools will join St. Thomas in the new Central Collegiate Hockey Association in 2021-22.
2020-21 BSU men’s hockey schedule
Nov. 20 MINNESOTA STATE^
Nov. 21 MINNESOTA STATE^
Nov. 27 at Minnesota State^
Nov. 28 at Minnesota State^
Dec. 4 at Northern Michigan^
Dec. 5 at Northern Michigan^
Dec. 11 MICHIGAN TECH^
Dec. 12 MICHIGAN TECH^
Jan. 1 ALASKA ANCHORAGE*
Jan. 2 ALASKA ANCHORAGE*
Jan. 7 at Bowling Green*
Jan. 8 at Bowling Green*
Jan. 15 ALABAMA HUNTSVILLE*
Jan. 16 ALABAMA HUNTSVILLE*
Jan. 22 at Alaska*
Jan. 23 at Alaska*
Jan. 29 LAKE SUPERIOR STATE*
Jan. 30 LAKE SUPERIOR STATE*
Feb. 5 at Ferris State*
Feb. 6 at Ferris State*
Feb. 12 NORTHERN MICHIGAN*
Feb. 13 NORTHERN MICHIGAN*
Feb. 19 at Michigan Tech*
Feb. 20 at Michigan Tech*
Feb. 25 at Minnesota State*
Feb. 27 MINNESOTA STATE*
^ denotes nonconference game
* denotes WCHA game