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Delay to college hockey season will be announced soon, but officials optimistic one will be played

021520 S GFH UNDMHKY MarkSenden01.jpg
UND forward Mark Senden (19) waits at the Fighting Hawks bench with his teammates while officials review a call during Friday's home hockey game against Denver. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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UND's official schedule still lists a preseason exhibition game against Manitoba on Oct. 3 and a regular-season opening series against Bemidji State on Oct. 9-10.

Neither will happen, though.

The National Collegiate Hockey Conference is one of multiple leagues preparing to officially announce a delay to the start of the college hockey season because of the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic. An announcement, which has long been expected, will likely be delivered within a week, according to two sources.

It's unclear whether the announcement will include a new targeted start date. But behind the scenes, college hockey leaders are increasingly optimistic about holding a 2020-21 season and are continuing to work toward a mid-to-late November start, aligning the hockey season with college basketball's season.

Exact details of what the season could look like are still very much up in the air, especially in the West, where day-long bus trips aren't always possible. The NCHC has explored many different ideas of how to handle a season in the midst of a pandemic -- including some outside-the-box possibilities -- but the league has not settled on anything yet.

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The announcement of a delayed start comes as no surprise.

By Aug. 1, nearly every league had become resigned to the fact that the season would not open on Oct. 3 as originally planned. They turned their attention toward the possibility of starting in either mid-to-late November or early January.

In the last month, momentum and planning has turned toward the November date.

Nonconference cancellations have been trickling in since the summer.

UND already backed up its U.S. Hall of Fame Game against Penn State, scheduled for Nashville's Bridgestone Arena in October, to an October 2021 date. Its late October nonconference series at Cornell also was wiped out when the six college hockey-playing Ivy League schools announced they won't start until at least January.

Other schools have eliminated nonconference flight trips for budgetary reasons, opting to try to schedule more regional opponents.

Highly anticipated season

This season is a highly anticipated one for UND.

The Fighting Hawks were 26-5-4 and No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings when the 2019-20 season abruptly ended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Despite finishing with the fourth-best record in program history and winning the NCHC's Penrose Cup, they never got the chance to play for an NCAA national championship.

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In the offseason, UND managed to keep the bulk of its team around.

Hobey Baker Award finalist Jordan Kawaguchi and defenseman Matt Kiersted both turned down multiple opportunities to sign NHL deals as free agents. Meanwhile, other draft players such as first-round pick Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa), second-round pick Shane Pinto (Ottawa), second-round pick Grant Mismash (Nashville) and sixth-round pick Collin Adams (N.Y. Islanders) also decided to return to school.

With all of the returning players, coupled with a highly touted recruiting class, UND is expected to start the season ranked No. 1 nationally.

Most of the players spent time this summer in Grand Forks working out and skating together.

Now, they're just awaiting their start date.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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