Gophers were already going to play in empty arena before NCAA ban

The Minnesota Gophers played playoff hockey games in front of small crowds last weekend, and will play in a nearly empty building this weekend at Penn State, after that school announced no spectators will be allowed at games in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Their decision follows a growing trend, with games being played in empty buildings or cancelled in efforts to combat the global pandemic.

Penn State's Vince Pedrie (24) shoots the puck during a men's college hockey exhibition game against Queen's (Ontario) on Oct. 2, 2016 at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, Pa. Craig Houtz / Penn State Athletic Communications
Penn State's Vince Pedrie (24) shoots the puck during a men's college hockey exhibition game against Queen's (Ontario) on Oct. 2, 2016 at Pegula Ice Arena in University Park, Pa. Craig Houtz / Penn State Athletic Communications
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MINNEAPOLIS — Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena was designed to be an intimidating place for visitors to play, with a huge student section and the Nittany Lions band positioned right behind the net where the opposing goalie spends 40 minutes. On Saturday, when the Minnesota Gophers play there in round two of the Big Ten playoffs, it will be a nice, quiet place for goalie Jack LaFontaine to work.

Amid fears about the spread of coronavirus, Penn State announced on Wednesday that no spectators will be allowed at their home games for all sports, effective immediately. This means, per a statement released by the school, that attendance at Saturday’s hockey game will be limited to student-athletes, coaches, team staffs, essential personnel, family members, media and Penn State recruits.

Soon after, the NCAA extended the ban on fans to all championships, including this weekend's women's hockey games and upcoming basketball contests. The Gophers will host Ohio State on Saturday afternoon in a NCAA women's hockey quarterfinal — and the men's hockey playoffs, set to begin March 27.

The announcements follow a growing trend nationwide, as sporting events and other places where people gather in large groups are being restricted, postponed or cancelled in an effort to limit spread of the virus, also known as COVID-19, which has now been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Earlier in the week, RPI and Cornell announced that spectators would not be allowed at either teams’ ECAC playoff series versus Harvard and Princeton, respectively. On Wednesday, Harvard took it a step further, with the school announcing that the series versus RPI has been canceled. This follows the Ivy League’s cancellation of its men’s basketball tournament, which was scheduled for the coming weekend at Harvard. UMass Lowell's home playoff series versus Boston University will be spectator-free this weekend as well.


In the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Clara County’s health department has ordered a three-week ban on all social gatherings involving more than 1,000 people, meaning the NHL’s San Jose Sharks may not be able to play home games with spectators in attendance for the time being.

The University of Minnesota announced Wednesday that it is suspending in-person classes across all of its campuses (Twin Cities, Duluth, Rochester and Crookston) and going to online learning after an extended spring break concludes on March 18. Numerous other colleges and universities have done the same, including Michigan State, Iowa State and Penn State, where all classes will be held remotely starting on Monday.

"Students are encouraged to stay home and continue classes online. However, we recognize that for some students the safest, most secure place will be on one of our five campuses," said U of M president Joan Gabel, in a system-wide email. "At this time, residence halls, dining services, and other student services will continue. Should on-campus student services be reduced as a result of these changes, we will let you know."

The Gophers were on the ice practicing on Wednesday afternoon when they learned of the no spectators rule at Penn State. Coach Bob Motzko and players were not immediately made available for comment, but offered a statement from the coach.

“The officials at Penn State made a decision in the best interest of their university, and I know the officials at the NCAA, the Big Ten and here at the University of Minnesota are monitoring the situation closely to do what’s best for everyone involved," Motzko said. "Right now, we’re not going to let this affect how we prepare for this weekend.”

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Just over 2,000 tickets were distributed at last Friday's Minnesota Gophers playoff game versus Notre Dame at the 10,000-seat 3M Arena at Mariucci. Their crowd on Saturday at Penn State will be even more limited, with the school announcing no spectators will be admitted to Nittany Lions games due to coronavirus fears. Jess Myers / The Rink Live.

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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