Scheduling for the first weeks of the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team’s 2020-21 season has taken a turn — and not primarily for the reason one might think.
It wasn’t the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the Badgers and Denver to call off the non-conference series that was originally planned for the weekend of Oct. 9-10 at the Kohl Center.
Instead, the sides couldn’t agree on when to stage the series around the uncertain time of the Saturday, Oct. 10, football game against Minnesota at Camp Randall Stadium.
According to sources, UW sought a Friday-Sunday series; Denver wanted to play Thursday and Friday and avoid a Sunday game because it’s due to travel to Boston the following weekend.
The cancellation of the games was on good terms, a source said. The Badgers and Pioneers are scheduled to complete a separately planned slate of games in Denver in the 2021-22 season.
To fill in for the Denver series on the 2020-21 non-conference schedule, the Badgers moved one pair of games and added another, according to sources.
UW was supposed to start the season Oct. 3-4 against Northern Michigan at the Kohl Center. Those teams are now scheduled to play Oct. 9 and 11, with Michigan Tech coming to Madison for the Oct. 3-4 series.
UW hasn’t yet announced its 2020-21 schedule but is selling season tickets for 18 regular-season home games plus an exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 team in October. All of the games carry the same uncertainty as all other sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But as of the most recent plans, UW students are returning to campus for a fall semester that will operate on a hybrid model, with some teaching in person and some through online means.
The Badgers finalized their 10-game non-conference schedule with a home series against Arizona State in February, according to a source. They had discussions with new Division I program Long Island before coming to an agreement with the Sun Devils to return to Madison for a second straight season.
Arizona State also is in the field with UW, UConn and Clarkson for the inaugural Holiday Face-Off Dec. 28-29 at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee. The Badgers also have an Oct. 23-24 series at Minnesota Duluth on the non-conference schedule.
The regional nature of the upcoming season’s slate of games isn’t an accident, according to a source. Nor is that both the Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan series include the Badgers agreeing to road series against the teams in future years.
College hockey programs are skittish about planning long travel for non-conference games amid unsure ground because of the coronavirus, both from health and travel perspectives and because of tightened budgets.
In the 10-year period ending with the 2018-19 season, UW paid an average of more than $56,000 a year to opponents in guarantees for non-conference men’s hockey games that didn’t come with a return away series, according to financial records submitted to the NCAA.
The prices that teams are asking for have gone up in recent seasons, sources said.
UW can control some of those costs by agreeing to one-for-one contracts like it has with Minnesota Duluth, Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan. The trade-off is in the number of home games and gate revenue.
The Badgers haven’t played at Michigan Tech since 2011 and haven’t been to Northern Michigan since 1996. Both teams have hosted games against UW at the Resch Center in Ashwaubenon, an option that is on the table again, according to a source.
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