The NCHC announced Friday that it has finalized its plans for the 2020-21 season.
The 26-game conference schedule and two-part format, which includes utilizing a centralized location (a “pod”) for all NCHC games to start the season Dec. 1 in Omaha, was unanimously approved by the NCHC’s Board of Directors on Oct. 15.
With the focus on the health and safety of student-athletes, coaches, staff, and officials, the conference has intentionally attempted to limit team travel. Because of this, NCHC teams have been divided into two divisions based on geography for 2020-21 scheduling purposes: East and West.
The East Division consists of Miami, Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan. The West Division consists of Colorado College, Denver, North Dakota and Omaha.
Teams will play each of their divisional opponents six times (18 games total) and each cross-division opponent twice (eight games total), with all cross-division games taking place in the pod to alleviate travel. The second portion of the season will then take place January through March, with all divisional teams playing each other at home and on the road.
“Throughout the past eight months we have learned to adjust and think creatively about how we live our personal and professional lives,” NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said in a statement. “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.”
On Dec. 1, Omaha’s Baxter Arena will host all eight NCHC teams. Competition in the pod will include 10 games per team (40 games total) and run through the first three weeks of December, with games held throughout each week. In addition to the cross-division games at Baxter Arena, each team will also play two games against one divisional team in the pod.
Overall medical support and COVID-19 testing for all participating players, staff and officials in the pod will be conducted through the University of Nebraska Medical Center, located in Omaha. Medical protocols and testing strategies for the entire season are currently being developed with top medical professionals from UNMC and the Global Center for Health Security.
“NCHC presidents and chancellors have been committed to finding ways for our student-athletes to return to the ice safely. We believe this plan accomplishes that,” said Greg Crawford, Miami president and chair of the NCHC Board of Directors. “On behalf of our board of directors, I want to thank the leadership of Dr. Jeffrey Gold at the University of Nebraska Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center for providing their institutional resources and medical expertise toward helping the conference start the season successfully.”
The second portion of the conference schedule will begin in the New Year and take place in all home NCHC venues. Following a break after the pod, all eight teams will resume play the first weekend in January with weekend series through the conclusion of the scheduled regular season on March 5-6. Teams will play 16 games during the second part of the season, all against divisional team, with eight games at home and eight games on the road.
In addition, teams will have multiple and consistent bye weekends during the travel portion of the season to allow for flexibility in the schedule.
“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,” said Trev Alberts, Omaha’s vice chancellor for athletics. “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.”
With the pod taking place during the first three weeks of December, some NCHC member institutions will have already completed fall semester classes, while other member schools will be offering the majority of their classes through remote learning during that time. Any academic support needed by players while in the pod will be provided by University of Nebraska Omaha staff. Game schedules in the pod will be created with each school’s final exam period in mind, limiting teams’ game schedule during a school’s scheduled final exam week.
As always, nearly every conference game in 2020-21, including games in the pod, will be available with a subscription on NCHC.tv. More information on NCHC.tv subscription packages and subscription renewals will be provided in the coming weeks. All auto-renewal subscription charges have been paused for the time being.
“We are excited to finally bring NCHC hockey back to our passionate fans,” Fenton said. “This season will be unique and unprecedented, but one where we will connect to and engage college hockey fans with NCHC content all season long.”
Complete conference schedules, including matchups, game dates and bye weekends for each team, along with the NCHC’s return to play protocol and overall COVID-19 testing plans, will be released in the coming weeks.
At this time, no changes are planned for the 2021 NCHC tournament. Any decision on possible nonconference games will be made at a later date.