The University of Wisconsin men's hockey team intends to play a full Big Ten Conference schedule in 2020-21 but has to eliminate some of its non-conference games.
As the Big Ten announced it Tuesday, the season will open as early as Nov. 13 — a delay of about six weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic — and include the 24 league games for each team that were part of the original schedule.
All seven teams also will be scheduled to play four non-conference games at home against Arizona State during the season, an addition that helps the independent team fill its slate but puts the Sun Devils on the road for the entirety.
The Badgers already had two non-conference games set up this season against Arizona State. The teams also were part of the field for the inaugural Holiday Face-Off in December at Milwaukee's Fiserv Forum.
But because the four games against Arizona State are the only non-conference contests being allowed on the schedule by the Big Ten, that event will have to be put on hold for a year. The Badgers also had non-conference series scheduled at Minnesota Duluth and at home against Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan in 2020-21.
A complete schedule, including TV spots, hasn't been finalized but Badgers coach Tony Granato said Tuesday's announcement of the season framework was welcome to his team.
"Lots of smiles," he said. "It was nice, finally. To be able to tell the guys officially today that there would be an announcement made was something that we've been waiting for."
The Big Ten also decided to return to a one-weekend format for its 2021 postseason tournament after splitting the three rounds over three weekends for the last three years. A site for the championship, scheduled for March 18-20, hasn't been determined.
Players and staff members from Big Ten schools, including those at affiliate member Notre Dame, will be subject to the same daily antigen testing for COVID-19 that has been put in place for football.
Arizona State has a similar COVID-19 testing protocol through its multi-sport conference, the Pac-12.
The Sun Devils actually will be taking fewer flights this season than normal because the schedule will accommodate two series per flight, coach Greg Powers said.
"We're not afraid of adversity and this is just another obstacle we're looking forward to conquering," he said.
With no fans allowed to attend games at least for the start of the season, scheduling will be more flexible than ever, Granato said. There's a possibility of midweek games and daytime starts to fit into travel plans and into TV schedules.
Like Arizona State, some Badgers road trips could include two stops — at Michigan and at Michigan State, for instance.
UW also might play its home games at LaBahn Arena.
"We could be doing a lot of different things than a normal, typical college hockey season," Granato said.
All seven Big Ten schools have agreed to a return trip to play at Arizona State in future seasons, Powers said. The Sun Devils are tentatively moving into a new arena in 2022.
"To have those brand names coming back to play us in Tempe, it's a big deal for our program," Powers said.
Along with other NCAA hockey conferences, the Big Ten announced an indefinite delay to the 2020-21 season on Sept. 10 while the league was sorting out its football plans. At the time, some hockey coaches and administrators hoped to line up their season with basketball, which can begin play Nov. 25.
Instead, Big Ten hockey will get a 12-day head start on basketball.
The announcement probably will be celebrated by the front office and fans of the Montreal Canadiens, who want to see 2019 first-round pick Cole Caufield get on the ice.
Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin said in a Sept. 29 radio interview that if the NCAA season didn't get started the team would have to look for other options for Caufield to play. The Badgers forward reportedly was being pursued by a Swedish team.
Granato credited former Michigan coach Red Berenson, who's now a special adviser for hockey operations to Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren, with emphasizing to league decision-makers that teams risked losing top talent the longer there was no word on when the season will start.
"That was a driving factor, the importance of keeping players, the personnel of our teams intact," Granato said.
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