College hockey coaches and conference commissioners have become pretty adept at navigating the World Junior Championship.
Conferences avoid scheduling league games during the Christmas break window, when the world's best under-20 hockey players leave their programs for a few weeks to compete in the IIHF tournament.
And teams that traditionally recruit top young talent -- and expect to have players missing during that time -- carefully approach nonconference scheduling during the World Juniors.
For example, last year Boston University and Wisconsin did not schedule a single regular-season game during the World Juniors. That way, BU didn't have to play without star forward Trevor Zegras and Wisconsin didn't have to attempt to play without Cole Caufield, K'Andre Miller, Ty Emberson and Alex Turcotte.
UND scheduled two nonconference games, but they were against Alabama Huntsville, which had the worst winning percentage in all of college hockey (2-26-6, .147). So, the Fighting Hawks still had a high probability of sweeping, despite being without top-40 NHL draft picks Shane Pinto and Jacob Bernard-Docker. They did, winning 5-2 on back-to-back nights.
But Thursday's announcement that the World Junior Championship will go on as expected -- in the same Edmonton bubble that's proved successful with the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs -- carries with it the potential to completely re-shape the power structure in college hockey this season.
While college hockey conferences have not released their coronavirus pandemic-altered 2020-21 schedules yet, we do know that leagues want to play a number of games between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when students are off of campuses and the risk of virus spread is reduced.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, UND's league, is even exploring a hub city in that time frame, bringing all eight member programs to one place to reel off games.
So, college hockey players who participate in the World Junior Championship this season might not just miss an exhibition game or two nonconference games, they could miss a significant chunk of the season.
There are variables yet to play out. Notably, we don't know the number of league games that will be played during that time and the amount of time World Junior players will be asked to quarantine before the event.
But if the NCHC attempts to play eight league games, for example, that marks a third of its traditional 24-game league schedule (and that's assuming the league plays a full 24-game schedule this season).
Could you imagine Denver playing a third of the NCHC season without star forward Bobby Brink? How about UND playing that many games without defensemen Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven and Mitchell Miller?
Others have even more to lose.
Boston University had seven players on World Junior summer camp rosters this year -- goalie Drew Commesso, defenseman Domenick Fensore, defenseman Case McCarthy, defenseman Alex Vlasic, forward Robert Mastrosimone, forward Dylan Peterson and forward Luke Tuch.
Michigan had six -- defenseman Owen Power, defenseman Cam York, forward John Beecher, forward Matt Beniers, forward Thomas Bordeleau and forward Brendan Brisson.
Boston College had four, but among those four are first-round picks Alex Newhook, Matthew Boldy and Spencer Knight, expected to be among college hockey's best players this season.
Without finalized calendars for the season, it's impossible to know just how many games World Junior participants will miss. But it sure appears like it will be more than just a nonconference set against a two-win team.
In what already promises to be an odd college hockey season, the World Juniors may deliver another curveball.