College Hockey Report: Return to Play in Sight, Yale Gets Hit with COVID

The college hockey world has been quiet over the past couple of months, as the uncertainty of the start to the 2020-21 season has been up in the air. However, there have been strides made across the country. Many teams have begun training on and off the ice, and there are discussions amongst the separate conferences on a return to play.

Last week, a plethora of announcements arose, both good and bad. Leagues are releasing schedules, and other conferences are making final preparations to announce start dates. On the other hand, the coronavirus is making its presence known across the country.

Conferences Getting Ready to Play

With the NCAA allowing each conference to determine their own way of returning to play, speculation began to arise about when and where conferences would jump back on the ice.

Big Ten

The first conference to strike oil and announce their start date was the Big Ten. On Oct. 6th, the six-team league stated that they are going to start their season as soon as Nov. 13. The teams will each play 24 games solely against conference opponents.

The most intriguing aspect of the schedule for the Big Ten is the addition of Arizona State. The Sun Devils are going to be a part of the “conference” schedule, as they’ll play their games at Big Ten venues.

Dominic Garcia Arizona State University
Arizona State has been an independent team since joining DI in 2015 (Image Credit: Riley Trujillo Photography)

“The opportunity to return to competition in mid-November,” stated former University of Michigan head coach and CCHA’s Special Advisor to the Commissioner, Red Berenson. “And the scheduling agreement with Arizona State is an exciting time for Big Ten Hockey.”

The conference will also adhere to strict, daily testing to ensure the safety of staff and athletes alike. They are complying with the same protocols initiated by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force back in September.

Atlantic Hockey

Despite most of the Ivy League not participating in fall sports, the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) is moving forward to beginning its 2020-21 season.

Last Thursday, a press release from the conference stated they will return to the ice around the same time as the Big Ten, the weekend of Nov. 13-14. Each team will play 24 conference games, with teams allowed to play up to 28 games in total.

To limit travel, the conference is being split into a five-team division, with East and West “pods” as the AHA is calling them. The five will play each other five teams throughout the season. Air Force is the lone outlier from the pods, but they will be playing each team in both pods twice, along with four games against the newest program in college hockey, Long Island University. Similar to Arizona State and the Big Ten, LIU is added to the conference schedule to help balance the rest of the AHA’s schedule. The Sharks will play the remaining ten teams twice this season.

Justin Kapelmaster (Justin Berl-RMU Athletics)
Robert Morris’ Justin Kapelmaster. RMU is in the West pod (Justin Berl-RMU Athletics)

This is great for LIU for two reasons. It gives the Sharks a defined schedule (something a lot of people wondered if it was even possible), and it gives them a chance to find a permanent conference home if they can hold their own.

NCHC

Twenty six hours after the AHA’s announcement, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) sent out a release that they will begin play on Dec. 1st.

Unlike the Big Ten and AHA, the NCHC is taking a different approach to their return to action. Taking a page from the NHL’s book, they will be using a single arena to play their games in, at least at the start.

The eight-team conference will form into East and West divisions. Each team will play 26 games, six against each divisional opponent, and two against each team from the other. Starting Dec. 1st, teams will meet at Baxter Arena, the home of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, for three weeks. In those three weeks, schools will play all of their cross-divisional games, and two against one of their division opponents.

In the second part of the schedule, beginning after the New Year, teams will face divisional foes in their respective NCHC arenas, with hopes of the schedule ending in early March.

Everyone Else

While there have been no announcements made yet, the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC), Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA), and Hockey East Association are close to releasing their plans to return to play.

According to sources, the ECAC will also adapt a two-division format for the 2020-21 season. They are looking to begin play on Jan. 2.

The Hockey East and WCHA are in the process of finalizing their schedules and statements. According to Bowling Green coach Ty Eigner, via College Hockey News, he said the 2020-21 WCHA schedule, including non-conference games, will be released next Friday. The WCHA is also looking to start in the New Year.

Yale Shuts Down Due to COVID

As we have seen across the landscapes of MLB, NFL, and college football, COVID-19 is proving to be an obstacle for schedules and events. Despite only being in the early stages of the preseason, college hockey programs have had to shut down practices and other school events thanks to the virus.

The biggest outbreak, so far, came up at Yale University. After an initial report last Thursday saying that six Bulldogs tested positive for COVID, that number increased dramatically in the next 24 hours, as 18 players were confirmed to have positive cases. The school immediately shut down all athletic events through Oct. 21, at the earliest.

Ingalls Rink Yale
Ingalls Rink is closed through Oct. 19 due to the outbreak (Yale Athletics)

Despite the Bulldogs publicly admitting they were practicing proper coronavirus safety protocols, the team will most likely be sitting out the next week or two to stop any potential spread. The Bulldogs’ rink, the famous Ingalls Rink, is closed for cleaning until Monday.

In some brighter news, the newly reformed Central Collegiate Hockey Association has introduced its new logo.

Eight months after the announcement of the revamped conference, they released its new logo last Tuesday.

Joe Bosack and Co., one of the country’s leaders in college branding, created the logo.

“It is a very exciting time as we prepare to begin play in 2021,” CCHA Commissioner Don Lucia expressed in a statement. “We appreciate all of the work Joe Bosack and his team did to create the visual identity for our new league.”

The “classic hockey pallette” also allows each of the eight teams in the conference the ability to throw their school’s colours into the logo as well.

COVID is still prevalent in our world today and will be for the foreseeable future. However, the sign that college hockey is making its way back to the ice, in any form, is proof that better days are ahead.


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