There will be no easing into next season for the UND hockey team.

The Fighting Hawks will open up the season with a month full of high-profile games against teams that finished last season in the top 17 of the Pairwise Rankings.

It opens with a home-and-away series against Bemidji State, which was No. 12 in the Pairwise.

Then, it takes on Penn State, No. 7 in the Pairwise, in a destination game at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. That contest has already sold the 17,159-seat arena.

Then, UND hosts rival Minnesota, No. 17 in the Pairwise, in Ralph Engelstad Arena. It will be Minnesota's first trip to The Ralph in two years.

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And after that, UND will play at Cornell. The Fighting Hawks and Big Red split the No. 1 ranking to end 2020-21. UND was No. 1 in the Pairwise, KRACH and RPI. Cornell was No. 1 in the year-end U.S. College Hockey Online poll.

Once November hits, there's not much of a reprieve.

UND hosts St. Cloud State and plays at Denver to open the National Collegiate Hockey Conference portion of the schedule.

While it will be a challenging start, the Fighting Hawks won't be attempting to do it with an inexperienced team. The bulk of last year's roster is expected to return.

Jordan Kawaguchi, Grant Mismash and Collin Adams -- the three seniors-to-be who comprised UND's top line last season -- have all pledged to return instead of signing NHL contracts.

Defenseman Matt Kiersted, who was one of the most coveted college hockey free agents, also said he will return.

UND's 2020-21 schedule has not yet been announced by the school or finalized, so it's still subject to change. UND also has the potential to add two more regular-season games to the schedule to reach the limit.

The Fighting Hawks were originally scheduled to host Northern Michigan, but the Wildcats had to back out because of scheduling conflicts. With most college hockey teams already full, it could be a challenge for the Fighting Hawks to add two more games.

There are several other notable items in the schedule:

  • The lone NCHC team that does not travel to Grand Forks is Western Michigan.
  • The lone NCHC road trip that UND will not make is St. Cloud.
  • UND's trip to Colorado College on Feb. 26-27 will be the last time it plays at World Arena. Colorado College is expected to open its on-campus rink, Robson Arena, in 2021-22.
  • Rivals UND and Minnesota still have two more years left in their agreement beyond this upcoming season. They'll play in Mariucci Arena in 2021-22 and back in Grand Forks in 2022-23.
  • Cornell will come back to Ralph Engelstad Arena in 2021-22.

Tentative 2020-21 UND hockey schedule

Schedule has not been announced or finalized yet and is subject to change

Oct. 3 -- MANITOBA (exhibition)

Oct. 9 -- at Bemidji State

Oct. 10 -- BEMIDJI STATE

Oct. 17 -- vs. Penn State in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena (U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game)

Oct. 23 -- MINNESOTA

Oct. 24 -- MINNESOTA

Oct. 30 -- at Cornell

Oct. 31 -- at Cornell

Nov. 6 -- ST. CLOUD STATE

Nov. 7 -- ST. CLOUD STATE

Nov. 13 -- at Denver

Nov. 14 -- at Denver

Nov. 20 -- MIAMI

Nov. 21 -- MIAMI

Nov. 27 -- NIAGARA

Nov. 28 -- NIAGARA

Dec. 4 -- at Omaha

Dec. 5 -- at Omaha

Dec. 12 -- U.S. UNDER-18 (exhibition)

Jan. 8 -- COLORADO COLLEGE

Jan. 9 -- COLORADO COLLEGE

Jan. 15 -- at Minnesota Duluth

Jan.. 16 -- at Minnesota Duluth

Jan. 22 -- DENVER

Jan.. 23 -- DENVER

Jan. 29 -- at Miami

Jan. 30 -- at Miami

Feb. 12 -- at Western Michigan

Feb. 13 -- at Western Michigan

Feb. 19 -- MINNESOTA DULUTH

Feb. 20 -- MINNESOTA DULUTH

Feb. 26 -- at Colorado College

Feb. 27 -- at Colorado College

March 5 -- OMAHA

March 6 -- OMAHA

March 12-14 -- NCHC first-round series (at home sites)

March 19-20 -- NCHC Frozen Faceoff (in St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center)

March 26-28 -- NCAA regionals (in Fargo's Scheels Arena)

April 8-10 -- NCAA Frozen Four (in Pittsburgh)