Gophers open men's hockey season on Nov. 19

The Big Ten announced Phase 1 of its 2020-21 schedule on Thursday, including the first 8 of 28 games the Minnesota Gophers will play. They open at home versus defending conference champ Penn State.

Sampo Ranta had six goals as a freshman for the Minnesota Gophers after committing to the program just weeks before the 2018-19 school year began. Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics.
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — To start the 100th season in program history, the Minnesota Gophers men's hockey team gets a chance to pick up essentially where it left off last spring.

On March 12, when last season was abruptly cancelled due to the pandemic, the Gophers were preparing for a trip to Penn State and a playoff game versus the Nittany Lions. When their 2020-21 season begins on Thursday, Nov. 19, the Lions will come to Minnesota to face the Gophers at 3M Arena at Mariucci for a two-game series.

On Thursday, the Big Ten released roughly a month of games , with a slate that begins Friday, Nov. 13, when Wisconsin visits Notre Dame. Phase 1 of the schedule runs through Dec. 20 when Michigan State will conclude a two-game series at Notre Dame, and the league will break for the holidays.

The schedule will be a sharp departure from the normal Friday-Saturday schedule that college hockey fans have gotten used to for decades. For example, the Gophers’ Thursday-Friday series with Penn State is followed by a Monday-Tuesday home series versus Ohio State, to be played Nov. 23-24.

“It’s great to finally have a date to circle on the calendar after waiting so long to hear about the season,” said Gophers junior forward Sammy Walker, who was a team captain last season. “I don’t think any of us have ever had so much anticipation going into a season as we have for this one. We’re ready to go.”


The Gophers’ first road series is Dec. 3-4 (a Thursday-Friday) at Michigan State, followed by a series at Michigan on Dec. 8-9 (Tuesday-Wednesday). While most other Big Ten teams announced their first 10 games, the Gophers have only announced eight so far, meaning the Gophers will have 20 games remaining when they return after the holiday break.

“We had to be patient, but we know we are playing hockey this month and that’s great news for our program,” Gophers head coach Bob Motzko said in a statement released by the school. “I'd again like to thank the Big Ten and our leaders here at Minnesota for their diligence in getting us to this point. We’re going to be smart and safe in how we proceed, but we are very excited for the puck to drop, and we can’t wait to see the rest of the schedule as it gets finalized.”

The schedule release, and the assurance that there will be a college hockey season in some form, was a long time coming for Gophers fans. While the U of M had not previously released a schedule, those slates announced and then scrapped by other teams and conferences had the Gophers opening the season on Oct. 3 with a home game against nationally-ranked Bemidji State, then facing two daunting road trips in the month, going to Duluth for the Ice Breaker Tournament, then traveling to North Dakota for a pair versus the top-ranked Fighting Hawks.

Instead, the Gophers will play 28 games, all of them within the Big Ten, which for this season only will include Arizona State. The Sun Devils have agreed to play all 28 of their games on the road, and not participate in the conference’s post-season tournament. There is no indication that this season will lead to a longer-term affiliation with the Big Ten for Arizona State, which added Division I hockey in 2015 and has played as an independent since then.

The conference said game times and television coverage will be announced at a later time. It has been speculated that with no fans or very few fans allowed in the arenas, the games could be played at non-traditional times as well. They also stressed that hockey teams will follow the same medical protocols that were developed by the Big Ten Return to Competition Task Force. Those include daily antigen testing, enhanced cardiac screening and an enhanced data-driven approach when making decisions about practice/competition.

Gophers officials noted that there will be no ticket sales for the season, as current state guidelines limit attendance at indoor events to 250 people.


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