The coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the upcoming season was a frequent topic of conversation during the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s men’s league media day Wednesday.

The ongoing pandemic has delayed the start of the 2020-21 college hockey campaign, but the wait is almost over with the first games set for this weekend.

The WCHA board of directors unanimously approved a Return to Competition plan on Tuesday, said men’s league commissioner Bill Robertson on a Zoom call that also featured coaches and media. Included is a requirement for teams to conduct COVID-19 testing of players, coaches and staff a minimum of three times per week this season.

Robertson said the WCHA is prepared for any bumps in the road the pandemic may bring about. The schedule was built with a bye weekend March 5-6 that could be used to make up any postponed games. He also indicated winning percentage would be used to determine a league champion and playoff seedings if teams are unable to play a uniform number of contests.

“While everyone in the WCHA is excited that meaningful games are on the horizon, we know we’ll need to navigate an ever-changing path as we move through the schedule with the hope of completing our regular season and postseason in March,” Robertson said. “I don’t think any of us expected our schedule to come off without a hitch. Cancellations and postponements are likely, and our staff will have to continue to be nimble and efficient.”

Newsletter signup for email alerts

The league is still working on navigating COVID-19 travel restrictions to Alaska. Alaska’s protocols are more restrictive than most states, and require out-of-state visitors to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days of departure.

The Alaska schools are set to face each other in a pair of series to start the season in December. Minnesota State is the first out-of-state team scheduled to visit Alaska for a Dec. 18-19 series at Alaska Anchorage.

BGSU coach shares team’s COVID-19 issues

Bowling Green is slated to be the first WCHA team to return to action with the late addition of a game against NCAA Division III Adrian College set for Friday, Nov. 13. The Falcons had originally hoped to face the U.S. Under-18 Team last Friday, but that game was postponed due to COVID-19 concerns.

BGSU head coach Ty Eigner disclosed that his team had gone through its own COVID-19 issues, but those affected are now healthy.

“One of the things that was, I think, most difficult for our guys after having conversations about (the virus) when it went through our team was the thing that you’ve got to remind yourself is these are young men,” Eigner said. “And whether they’re athletes or not, these guys think they’re invincible. They believed that we were kind-of-sort-of in a bubble because they live together and train together and practice together and eat together.

“But the reality is every time someone goes to see their girlfriend, or goes to get dinner here, or a buddy comes over who’s not necessarily a student-athlete -- those are all opportunities for the virus to be transmitted. The only real bubbles are the NBA and the NHL, and when no one gets in and no one gets out, that’s why you have 30,000 negative tests. It’s been a learning experience for all of us, understanding that you can’t be too safe.”

The Falcons aren’t the only WCHA team known to have been affected by positive COVID-19 cases. Back in August, the entire Alaska team needed to either quarantine or isolate after positive cases popped up within the program.

Alabama Huntsville secures long-term funding

Alabama Huntsville goalie David Fessenden (41) scrambles for the puck in a game against Bemidji State on Nov. 23, 2019, at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Alabama Huntsville goalie David Fessenden (41) scrambles for the puck in a game against Bemidji State on Nov. 23, 2019, at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Alabama Huntsville hopes to be on stable financial footing for the long term now that the program has secured $17 million in donations from alumni and other supporters, it was announced Wednesday.

Former UAH players Taso Sofikitis and Sheldon Wolitski organized a fundraising effort that will net the Chargers $1.7 million per year over the next decade to fund the program. The team was nearly eliminated earlier this year before a last-second fundraiser restored the program for at least this season.

“It’s been a very impressive thing to see everybody come together,” UAH head coach Lance West said. “It’s the first step in us coming back and trying to establish our program long term. It’s extremely exciting.”

The Chargers will next work on securing a new arena and a conference affiliation beyond this season.

Rule changes for 2020-21

WCHA Supervisor of Officials Greg Shepherd gave an overview of college hockey’s rule changes to take effect with the 2020-21 season.

The biggest change will be the universal 3-on-3 overtime that was implemented across the sport. Games tied after regulation will go directly to a five-minute 3-on-3 overtime period. If no one scores, the game will officially end in a tie, though a three-person shootout is allowed in conference play, as the WCHA will use.

Postseason conference tournament and NCAA tournament games will still use 20-minute 5-on-5 overtime periods.

Another change will allow the attacking team to select the faceoff location in the offensive half of the ice -- right side or left -- after a penalty or icing call.

Faceoff protocol has also changed. A center will be issued a warning instead of ejected from the faceoff for an initial violation. A second violation by the same team during the same faceoff will result in a bench minor penalty for delay of game.