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NCAA gives green light for Division-I college hockey teams to play each other in exhibitions this season

Schools have generally played exhibitions against Canadian colleges, but that could be challenging this year with COVID-19 restrictions in place.

112319 S GFH UNDHOCKEY ShanePinto JuddCaulfield JoshRieger EthanFrisch01.jpg
UND forward Shane Pinto celebrates his first period goal with fans and Fighting Hawks teammates Judd Caulfield, Josh Rieger (20) and Ethan Frisch (15) Friday night against St. Cloud State at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

NCAA men's and women's hockey teams have the green light to play exhibition games against other college hockey schools this season.

The NCAA Committee For Legislative Relief has approved a waiver that will allow the exhibitions, multiple sources have told the Herald.

College hockey teams frequently play against Canadian colleges in exhibitions, but that will be difficult, if not impossible, this season due to ongoing coronavirus pandemic restrictions and because the border is still closed for Canadians wishing to enter the United States.

The waiver was initially granted last season, but it was passed too late for any teams to take advantage. It has now been extended to this season.

If a team uses the waiver to schedule another college hockey team, it will not be allowed to play a Canadian college. And if a team chooses to play a Canadian school, it will not be allowed to use the waiver to play an exhibition against an NCAA team.

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The waiver allows Division-I teams to play other Division-I teams as well as Division-II, Division-III and even ACHA club teams.

Many college hockey teams didn't even bother scheduling exhibitions this season. In fact, UND is the only National Collegiate Hockey Conference team that had announced exhibition games for 2021-22.

That may change in the wake of the NCAA's waiver, though.

The Fighting Hawks are scheduled to open with an Oct. 2 exhibition against the University of Manitoba. They also have one scheduled for Jan. 1 against the U.S. Under-18 Team.

If the Manitoba exhibition game falls through due to the border closing, UND will be able to replace it with an exhibition against another Division-I team.

UND prefers to have an exhibition under its belt before opening the regular season.

Last season marked the first time since 2003 that UND opened with a regular-season game, and that was only because all eight NCHC teams agreed to start in an Omaha-based Pod to prevent coronavirus infections.

Prior to that, Manitoba was the opening exhibition opponent for eight-straight years and 15 of the last 16.

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UND's regular-season opener is set for Oct. 8 against Niagara in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

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