Any Other Year, It Would Be Hockey Season. So Where Do Things Stand?

Tomorrow is Friday, but not just any Friday. Tomorrow is the first Friday in October. Any other year, we would have a game preview up on the site, profiles of the freshmen at the ready. Electricity would be running though the air, the puck would drop at 7 PM, and the long wait would be over once again.

It should be the first day of hockey season.

Unfortunately, it’s still 2020.

So, where do we stand? If you follow us on twitter, you’ve seen reflections of both our personal opinions on the return to play and the rumors that have surfaced throughout the NCAA at large and the college hockey conferences. Some, including BC’s Jerry York, postured that Hockey East would begin play as soon as the start of November. But the fact remains that it’s October and we don’t even have schedules to speculate on, so every day that passes at this point is a day that we’re not getting closer to hockey. But let’s run down what has happened:

The NCAA hockey season is not starting on time, or any time this month. While the Ivy League teams will sit out until at least the end of 2020, Hockey East has announced their intention to hold a season and all of the conferences of college hockey have made a joint announcement that they intend to play a season this winter, with details to be announced by the individual conferences.

And… if you only listen to official channels, that’s it. “We’ll play at some point, thanks, check back at a later date.” Welcome to the world of 2020. But unofficially, there have been some other important notes and rumblings. Some of the information below has been released by various college hockey journalists, some was directly mentioned to us by various sources around the conference, and almost everything that follows this statement should be taken with a grain of salt. It may be accurate, it may have never been accurate, it may have been accurate at the time we heard it and completely changed since then. Some of it is just plain my own speculation. But it’s time for hockey season, at least it’s supposed to be, so this is our best guess at what exactly that hockey season is eventually going to look like.

As we mentioned above, Jerry York stated that plans were in place to start up as early as the start of November. We have also learned that Hockey East has multiple scheduling plans in place depending on when the season can start and how many games can be played, with opening night ranges from early November to January. The conference tournament will need to conclude by the same date that was originally scheduled, and NCAA tournament dates will not be changed, so the start date has a direct impact on how many games can take place.

Assuming the season can get started early enough, Hockey East plans to play the previously devised full 24 game conference schedule, if not more games than that. It’s hard to imagine a season where every conference matchup happens 3 times for a 30 game slate, but the mid to high 20’s are in play. My personal belief is that 26 games is right around the sweet spot, with the range of reasonable possibilities likely failling between 24 and 27. The league would likely need to start play sometime in November to make that many games happen, with a January 1st start likely coming in around the 20 game mark.

The fact that nothing has been announced yet leads to the question: how much time do we need between a formal announcement and a puck drop?

I think this is less than you might expect. While there are obviously logistics to work out, the teams have already been on the ice practicing for the upcoming season unlike some of their football counterparts, so they won’t need as long to ramp up as Big Ten or Pac-12 football did. In addition, a season is likely to consist of only single day trips with no hotel stays, so teams don’t have to worry about booking those in advance either. So while I don’t think an early November start is impossible yet, the clock is still ticking. If the announcement isn’t made in the next couple of weeks if not sooner, the target date almost certainly shifts to Thanksgiving rather than Halloween, if it hasn’t already.

Shifting back to the day-trip-only schedule, it remains to be seen how such a plan would account for Orono or Burlington. There is a possibility that instead of playing back to back nights this year, series’ could start as early as Thursday and end as late as Sunday to give teams time to recover from the travel between games. From what we’ve learned, Hockey East isn’t seriously considering any kind of bubble, conference breakups into divisions or pods, or games against local non-conference teams.

If that last point didn’t immediately catch your eye and/or bring you to a frenzy, let me help you out. The question you should be asking is “What about the Beanpot?” The last update we heard about the biggest regular season tournament in college hockey was months ago, but at that time, we were assured the Beanpot schools had full intention of putting the ‘Pot on the line as long as there was a season to be played. Since then, Hockey East has abandoned whatever plans they once had for non-conference play, while Harvard is a part of a rumored Ivy League pod in the ECAC that would only leave the Crimson time to play conference games in 2021. So it seems safe to assume at this time that the Beanpot is in jeopardy until proven otherwise.

There are ways it could still happen with Harvard. If the Ivy League, the ECAC, and Hockey East allow it, the Crimson could open up a midweek date to play a first round game and deal with scheduling a championship game against the other semifinal winner if and when the problem arises. I’m sure nobody will mind if we forego the consolation game this time around, NCAA Tournament ramifications be damned. The national tournament itself is going to need to find a new way to select teams anyway, as the Pairwise doesn’t calculate results if there are no non-conference games to use to compare relative strength of teams and leagues.

But it seems more likely that if there is a Beanpot at all, Harvard will not be a part of it. The Ivy League has been aggressive and steadfast in their leadership to keep their athletes out of danger regardless of the consequences, and it seems unlikely that they would open up the floor for non-conference games early in their return, even for a local game with virtually zero travel. And even if the Ivy League and ECAC would allow play, there’s no guarantee Hockey East would allow their three schools an exception from restrictions to play against the Crimson either.

If it turns out that the three Hockey East teams will decide the Beanpot’s fate without the Crimson rather than canceling it altogether, they will have options, whether that’s a round-robin tournament, a bye for one of the three teams, etc. In theory there don’t even need to be additional games between the Hockey East schools, the scheduled Hockey East games between BC/BU/NU could easily become Beanpot games with conference points also on the line. The tournament likely has to take place one at least one of the four campuses regardless, there’s no reason to play at TD Garden in front of an empty house, so why not kill two birds with one hockey game?

(Editor’s note: All members of the NU Hockey Blog believe that adding a fourth team as a one-year substitute for Harvard would be a shortsighted and largely unnecessary move for the Beanpot to make and not worthy of consideration.)

This is all purely speculation, as the variety of different possibilities show, and whatever conversations have assuredly happened have stayed behind closed doors. But while we all want a Beanpot and frankly expect a Beanpot, it’s time to begin preparing for the possibility that it may not look anything like the tournament we’ve become accustomed to, if it happens at all.

Keeping on the subject of closed doors, I’d forget any intention of attending a game at Matthews Arena until at least the 2021 season. Northeastern did recently send out a targeted survey asking select fans what kind of measures would need to be undertaken on an arena level, a university level, and a state/national level for fans to attend games. While it shows NU is considering the possibility, either the state or the City of Boston approving a mass indoor gathering anytime soon seems completely off the table, especially as Boston this week has been excluded from any additional reopening, amidst a jump in cases and positive test results as well as some questionable conduct by our neighbors on Chestnut Hill.

It remains to be seen if Hockey East leaves attendance up to each school or implements a conference policy; most football schools seem to be operating on a school-by-school basis, but the hockey community has also appeared to operate more in lockstep than college football by a wide margin. If there is a conference policy it would have to meet the guidelines of the most restrictive of the 11 schools and locales, which would likely keep fans out of all games through at least the regular season.

That just about wraps things up. While this there are still questions to be answered, decisions to be made, schedules to be finalized and released, and a season to play, that’s all still on the horizon for now. But the wheels are in motion. For now, the next event to turn to is the October 6-7 NHL draft, where freshman Sam Colangelo will look to become the first first round pick for NU since Stanley Cup Finalist Jamie Oleksiak in 2011. A selection in the top 31 would make Colangelo the highest drafted forward in school history, as well as NU’s first ever first round pick up front. Should he not be picked in round one, Colangelo still has a good shot at being the highest-selected Huskies player since Oleksiak, with current defenseman Jayden Struble holding that honor (46th overall). Struble and Colangelo both were invited to World Juniors camp this week. On day two, some fellow Huskies will also hope to hear their names called, including new goaltender Devon Levi and forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. Last but not least, we have a surprise coming for you next week ahead of the draft, so stay tuned here as well.