BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji State women’s hockey team can finally begin to fill out its 2020-21 calendar.
The Beavers will open the season Nov. 20-21 at St. Cloud State following what will be a nearly two-month delay due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The WCHA women’s league released a partial schedule Friday that will see teams play eight league games from Nov. 20 to Dec. 19 before the holiday break. League play will then resume as soon as Jan. 1, the conference said in its announcement. The post-holiday schedule will be released in the coming weeks.
“We’ve been hearing rumors, and I know there’s been a number of schedules that have gone back and forth, trying to work everything out,” BSU head coach Jim Scanlan said. “So to finally have it be official and say, ‘Here we go, we’re going to play on Nov. 20,’ is really exciting.”
BSU will square off against Minnesota State in the team’s first home series Dec. 4-5 at the Sanford Center. The team will then host SCSU Dec. 11-12 before traveling to Minnesota State to finish the first half Dec. 17-18.
Game times have not yet been announced.
Whether fans will be allowed to attend games at the Sanford Center remains unknown.
The partial schedule doesn’t include any nonconference games, though that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the lack of non-league games across college hockey this season.
“Based on what other leagues were doing it was pretty evident that playing anybody outside our conference was going to be pretty hard,” Scanlan said. “If it works out where towards the end of the year you play somebody more than the traditional four times, then maybe those are nonconference.”
The team is looking forward to actually having games on the horizon.
“I give our group a tremendous amount of credit because right from day one they’ve been really focused and all of our practices have been really productive,” Scanlan said. “Now to have a schedule where we know playing on the 20th, that’s just going to be really exciting, and I know practices will just be that much more intense now.”
The biggest hurdle facing the WCHA as it formed a schedule was COVID-19 testing.
Return to competition protocols, including a league-wide testing protocol, are still being finalized and awaiting approval, the league said in its announcement.
The conference includes three members of the Big Ten, which has adopted stricter testing requirements for its members in all sports -- such as daily antigen tests and enhanced cardiac screenings -- than the NCAA Sports Science Institute’s guidelines. The NCAA guidelines suggest testing team players, coaches and staff three times per week on non-consecutive days throughout the season, beginning one week prior to the start of competition.
“That’s been the biggest holdup,” Scanlan said. “That’s been the reason why we haven’t had a schedule put out, and that’s the reason we’re not playing any Big Ten schools the first half of the year. Hopefully it’s going to get worked out. We’re following what the NCAA is mandating.
“It’s a financial hardship obviously when you’ve got to test that many more times going into a weekend series. It’s just frustrating.”
WCHA teams will play within two groups in November and December. NSIC members BSU, SCSU and MSU are in one, while the Big Ten schools are in the other. NSIC member Minnesota Duluth will play against teams from both groups since it can meet Big Ten standards due to the school belonging to the University of Minnesota system, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
The Beavers have conducted surveillance testing of a portion of the team since last month. Testing of the whole team and staff will expand to once per week beginning Monday, with testing increasing to three times per week going into the first series.
The pandemic has worsened in Minnesota as the state has reported three straight days of record case numbers, which concerns Scanlan.
“Obviously with the way things are going, we hope to get all these games in,” Scanlan said. “With the way things are going, you just don’t know, and obviously the numbers are increasing all over the place. In the back of your mind you’re always worried that things might get shut down again.
“We’re going to do everything we can to play the games, and I know all of the teams in our league want to do the same.”