Anticipating disruptions to the league schedule due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the NCHC announced Monday possible adjustments to how the league standings will be calculated in 2020-21.

If any one NCHC team is unable to play the full 26-game schedule this season, the final standings will be calculated on a points-per-game basis. Points-per-game will be calculated by taking the total number of points earned and dividing that by games played.

The league is requiring teams to have a minimum of 15 healthy skaters and two goaltenders, plus two coaches and one medical professional (athletic trainer or doctor) to play in a game this season.

The WCHA, Atlantic Hockey, Hockey East and ECAC (which only has two schools playing at the moment) are among the leagues that have already had games postponed in their men’s and women’s leagues this month due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Minnesota State-Mankato announced Monday morning its game that afternoon at Bemidji State had to be postponed due to positive test results. The Mavericks and Beavers played just 24 hours earlier in Bemidji. Northern Michigan postponed or canceled six games over the next two weeks due to testing results within the program announced Monday.

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During the first of a two-day virtual NCHC Media Day event on Monday ahead of the upcoming pod in Omaha, NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said the league continues to monitor the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the Midwest.

“We know that the numbers aren't necessarily going in a good direction, and also probably not going in a good direction anytime soon,” said Fenton, detailing a call between the league’s presidents and chancellors last week. “But it was reiterated and discussed amongst that call that the protocol that we have in place, gives us the best chance for success, even in the environment that we're seeing right now.”

Each NCHC team is scheduled to play 10 games in three weeks in December in Omaha, and then another 16 at campus rinks starting Jan. 1, 2021.

To be eligible for the NCHC’s regular season title, the Penrose Cup, a team must play a minimum of 20 games — or 77% — though an exception will be made if a team still has the most total points, despite playing less than 20 games.

The league will continue to award points in the standings as it did before, with teams receiving three points for a regulation win, two for a 3-on-3 or shootout win, and one for a 3-on-3 or shootout loss.

The definition of regulation has changed, however, after the NCAA altered overtime procedures for the entire sport during the offseason, eliminating the mandated five-minutes of 5-on-5 overtime. Instead games will go straight to 3-on-3 if tied after 60 minutes, and the result from 3-on-3 will count toward a team’s NCAA tournament qualification record. Stats from 3-on-3 will count as well, while shootouts — back to being three-person again — are only to determine division of league points.

Postseason procedures

In addition to setting a minimum threshold for team personnel to play a game, the NCHC outlined minimum thresholds for postseason play in 2020-21.

To make the NCHC postseason tournament, a team must play 13 conference games — or 50% — this year, which matched the NCAA’s current minimum for being eligible for the NCAA tournament. Seeding for the NCHC tournament will be based on the final regular-season, points-per-game standings among postseason-eligible teams. The regular-season title threshold will not apply for NCHC tournament seedings.

Minnesota Duluth players stretch on on March 21, 2019 during a practice session for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. File / News Tribune
Minnesota Duluth players stretch on on March 21, 2019 during a practice session for the NCHC Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. File / News Tribune

As for what the NCHC’s postseason tournament will look like this season, Fenton said those discussions and decisions will likely happen in early 2021, and another pod is possible.

“Anything is on the table at this point for the postseason,” said Fenton, adding he remains in contact with officials at Xcel Energy Center, home to the NCHC Frozen Faceoff. “We have discussed any and all options, including a pod type of scenario for the postseason. But what our focus is right now is obviously starting the season, hopefully getting through the pod successfully. I do believe that my mind will probably wander a little bit more about what the postseason may entail while I'm in Omaha.”