The official announcement that college hockey won't start its season on time, which has long been expected, arrived Thursday morning.

In an impressively coordinated fashion, every men's and women's conference released a joint statement saying the season will be delayed due to the impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

However, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference went one step farther.

It sent out a separate release giving a targeted start date: Nov. 20.

The release specifically said that it hopes to start the season "on or after" Nov. 20, giving the league some wiggle room, but the target date confirms the Herald's earlier report that all momentum is focused on a mid-to-late November start to the season.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"The health and safety of all involved across the campus communities, particularly our student-athletes, is the top priority," said NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton. "We fully expect NCHC hockey to be back this season. As COVID-19 continues to have an impact on higher education, we have an obligation to host athletic competitions in a safe and responsible manner.

"We are committed to doing everything we conceivably can to provide competitive experiences that our student-athletes deserve. This delay affords us valuable time to continue formulating plans to start the season successfully."

The NCHC release also says, "numerous scheduling models with a variety of start dates are being considered."

There is no mention of whether nonconference games will be played.

UND already backed up its U.S. Hall of Fame Game against Penn State, scheduled for Nashville's Bridgestone Arena in October, to an October 2021 date. Its late October nonconference series at Cornell also was wiped out when the six college hockey-playing Ivy League schools announced they won't start until at least January.

This season is a highly anticipated one for UND.

The Fighting Hawks were 26-5-4 and No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings when the 2019-20 season abruptly ended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite finishing with the fourth-best record in program history and winning the NCHC's Penrose Cup, they never got the chance to play for an NCAA national championship.

In the offseason, UND managed to keep the bulk of its team around.

Hobey Baker Award finalist Jordan Kawaguchi and defenseman Matt Kiersted both turned down multiple opportunities to sign NHL deals as free agents. Meanwhile, other draft players such as first-round pick Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa), second-round pick Shane Pinto (Ottawa), second-round pick Grant Mismash (Nashville) and sixth-round pick Collin Adams (N.Y. Islanders) also decided to return to school.

WDAY SPORTS CHATS WITH UND HEAD HOCKEY COACH BRAD BERRY

With all of the returning players, coupled with a highly touted recruiting class, UND is expected to start the season ranked No. 1 nationally.

Most of the players spent time this summer in Grand Forks working out and skating together.