St. Cloud, MN – The rumors had been circling for several weeks that the possibility of a “bubble” format could be initiated to jump-start the 2020-21 NCHC season. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the SCSU schedule was chopped including non-conference games with Arizona State, Minnesota State University Mankato, Northeastern, Boston College and Bemidji State University. Finally, the uncertainty of the conference season was lifted with the announcement by the National Collegiate Hockey Conference on October 16th that the league will commence the 2020-21 season in a “Pod” in Omaha, Nebraska at Baxter Arena starting on December 1st. This decision was arrived at following unanimous approval by the conference’s board of Directors on Thursday, October 15.
NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton announced “Throughout the past eight months we have learned to adjust and think creatively about how we live our personal and professional lives. I’m proud of our membership for their entrepreneurial spirit to build a concept grounded in health and safety that we believe gives a group of deserving student-athletes the best opportunity to conduct a successful season.”
Trev Alberts, the Vice Chancellor for athletics at Omaha noted “Given the myriad of challenges the COVID-19 pandemic has created, this unique approach to scheduling should optimize the chances for a safe and successful hockey season. We have a great partner in the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who will help us take all of the necessary steps to ensure the health and safety of the student-athletes, coaches and staff in the Pod. We know it will be a busy three weeks, but our staff is very excited to make this a marquee event for the NCHC and college hockey.”
Further details released indicate a start date of December 1 as this date aligns with the start date of competition for other conferences and the start of other winter sports such as college baskeball. Additionally, most schools will have completed fall semester or have moved any remaining classes to remote learning within the week of Thanksgiving. This format also allows the league to maximize the number of games with additional flexibility for scheduling.
SCSU coach Brett Larson commented ” SCSU will be able to quarantine a week before traveling to the Pod and then start three weeks of competition where we can reel off 10 games in a bubble. We can then go home for Christmas and then play a 16 game schedule (8 home and 8 away) after Christmas with regionalized travel.”
Teams will be placed in Divisions (East and West) with the East consisting of St. Cloud State, Minnesota-Duluth, Miami and Western Michigan. The remaining squads including North Dakota, Omaha, Denver and Colorado College will be slotted in the West. Teams will play their division partners six times each and cross-division teams twice. That will make for a 26 game conference season.
This format will also allow “All student-athletes, coaches, staff and officials to be subject to a robust and consistent testing strategy within the Pod, while alleviating the need for schools to conduct testing during this same timeframe.” Omaha was chosen due to it’s proximity to a leading Medical Center, the University of Nebraska Medical Center and an affiliated Global Center for Health Security, a renowned center for infectious disease and infections research. Omaha is also the most centrally located city in the conference with great proximity between team lodging and Baxter Arena.
Nebraska is currently 35th out of 50 states in the USA in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. More information is here: coronavirus/usa/nebraska
Each team will play 3-4 games a week and a total of 10 games during the period of December 1-20. Games will occur throughout the week with limited games for a respective schools final exam period.
Currently, no changes are being made to the 2021 NCHC Tournament. Decisions concerning whether fans will be allowed for any part of the season have not been made at this time. However, nearly all games are expected to be streamed on NCHC.tv.
“We are excited to finally bring NCHC hockey back to our passionate fans” said Josh Fenton. “This season will be unique and unprecedented, but one where we connect to and engage college hockey fans with NCHC content all season long.”