MINNEAPOLIS — Judging from occasional social media posts, it appears to be a fairly typical summer in Scandinavia for Minnesota Gophers forward Sampo Ranta. He regularly posts pictures with friends in his native Finland working out and enjoying the extra hours of sunshine in this far north part of the world.
Like many, Ranta, who will be a junior, is also surely anxious to get back to campus in the fall and resume his college hockey development, with hopes of signing with the Colorado Avalanche someday. Amid all of the questions that the coronavirus pandemic has created about when school and sports will resume, and what they will look like eventually, recent moves in Washington, D.C., have added a whole new round of questions for non-American students like Ranta.
On Monday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that come fall, student visas will not be issued for foreigners studying at American colleges that have online-only classes. At this time, the University of Minnesota is not planning on having their classes online only, so the ruling would currently not apply to Ranta and the Gopher hockey team's two Canadians — goalies Jack LaFontaine and Justen Close.
But the announcement created a firestorm in the world of higher education, where students come from all over the world to attend American college under normal conditions. On Wednesday, the U of M released the following statement:
We are aware of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement proposed guidance for Fall 2020, which was announced on Monday, July 6. University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel sent an email to all international students about this topic on July 7. In addition, members of the Lindahl Academic Center staff and head coaches or sport support staff members have been in contact with our international student-athletes. We believe Minnesota’s hybrid model for in-person and online classes for Fall 2020 satisfies ICE’s requirements and excludes our student-athletes from being subjected to these proposed guidelines.
Harvard, which has announced an online-only curriculum for the coming school year, had six Canadians on the roster last season. The three of them that were underclassmen, and an incoming freshman from Ontario, presumably could not get visas to attend Harvard and play hockey for the Crimson under this new rule, which falls under the U.S. State Department's Student and Exchange Visitor Program.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Harvard and its academic neighbor, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced they had filed a lawsuit lawsuit against ICE and the Department of Homeland Security seeking to block the ruling and allow non-American students into the country for the coming academic term. In an additional twist, the Ivy League is widely reported to be cancelling fall sports and delaying winter sports until Jan. 1, meaning the visa status of hockey players at places like Harvard, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth, etc., may be a moot point for the rest of 2020.
Gophers' schedule still pending, subject to change
While other teams and conferences released their 2020-21 hockey schedules months ago, the Gophers and the Big Ten have taken much longer to reveal things like their schedule and their list of incoming recruits. Perhaps that patience was a smart move in light of recent developments related to COVID-19 and on-going efforts to slow the virus' spread.
Earlier in the summer, Gophers coach Bob Motzko said that hockey is waiting to see what football is able to do, as an indicator of what winter sports might look like. If that is the case, the news Wednesday was not positive, as Ivy League football will not happen. Although some in Power 5 conferences like the Big Ten have said that their schools and schedules will not be affected by the Ivy League's move.
With the Ivy winter sports seasons not likely starting until Jan. 1 at the earliest, there will be an immediate impact on the Gophers' hockey schedule. Although it was not confirmed by the U of M, Harvard officials said the initial Crimson schedule had them hosting the Gophers over Thanksgiving weekend in Cambridge, Mass. It is unknown what, if anything, will replace those games on the Gophers' schedule.
Also, Canadian colleges have announced they will not have sports in the fall, meaning that the normal late September or early October exhibition game that Minnesota colleges play versus the likes of Calgary, Manitoba, Alberta or Mount Royal (the Gophers and Cougars skated to a 2-2 tie last season) will not happen.
The Gophers first road game was initially scheduled for Oct. 9 in Duluth versus UMD in the first round of the annual Icebreaker tournament, with Providence and Minnesota State University-Mankato filling out the four-team bracket. Sources indicated to The Rink Live on Wednesday that the Icebreaker is unlikely to happen and a replacement home-and-home series between the Gophers and Bulldogs would be challenging to schedule.