Thursday, May 4, 2017

What's Next? An Early Look At The 2017-18 Schedule (Part 2)

Photo: Nathan Wells

Back in March, when I wrote Part 1 less than 24 hours after the season ended, Part 2 was going to be on the incoming freshmen. That's not the case. Since much of April has been spent chronicling many of their playoff runs, I'm going to switch gears in May and give the schedule some attention before it comes and goes (and comes back again when TV gets announced).

Don't worry about the incoming freshmen. I'll get to them. It's a long offseason.

When it inevitably ends, however, Minnesota will be playing 36 games through a condensed schedule thanks to a new team and format.

Why 36 instead of a regular 34 game schedule?

NCAA rules limits teams to playing a maximum of 34 games in one season. Several games and situations are exempt from that total, however. Games in Alaska. The Hall of Fame Game. And the season-opening Ice Breaker Tournament, of which Minnesota is one of four participants.

(Next season Minnesota will get an extra game when the Gophers face North Dakota in the Hall of Fame Game. The Gophers normally try to get an extra game or two - the team has each year since realignment - through one method or another.)

What's new?

Notre Dame. Remember Notre Dame? Too soon? Well, the Fighting Irish and its 2017 Frozen Four appearance join the Big Ten this season as an affiliate member in men's hockey, bringing the total number of teams to seven.

Seven teams presents new challenges with an odd number and several changes. The days of Big Ten hockey being set like Big Ten basketball, where the first two months are all non-conference and makes it hard to pay attention to other Big Ten teams, and final two-plus months almost solely conference, are done. Expect a more traditional college hockey set-up where conference play happens in early November and even October.

The full round robin format continues. All teams will add 4 conference games to go from 20 to 24 with the addition of Notre Dame (that first conference trip to South Bend tentatively should come around Thanksgiving). Fewer non-conference games takes away a couple opportunities for playing MN schools every year, but 24 seems like a good compromise. 20 can be too few. 28 means too few non-conference games and little variety.

Isn't there a new Big Ten conference tournament format?

Yes. I went into detail about what it entails in a separate post. The short gist is all tournament games move to campus sites and the tournament goes from one weekend to three.

Adding two extra weeks of playoffs does take away some rest. The Gophers need to essentially play 18 weekends of games in 22 weeks rather than 24. A couple weeks end up being finals and Christmas and many teams use the opening week of the year (September 30 this season) for practice or an exhibition.

That said, it's nothing new for Minnesota. Thanks to an early bye week in January, the Gophers went the final 10 weeks of 2016-17 without a bye.

Anything else interesting?

Photo: Nathan Wells

The Gophers head to the Big Apple.

Minnesota takes part in the third annual Big Ten Hockey/Hoops Doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on January 20, 2018 against Michigan State. The Gophers will be represented in both hockey and hoops, however, do not give up a home game. MSU will be the home team. How this has worked in past years is the two teams play a home game on campus Thursday night, travel to New York and then play again Saturday.

There's also Minnesota's first trip to Grand Forks since January 2012 and kicking off the Ice Breaker against national runner-up Minnesota Duluth in Duluth. This year's Ice Breaker holds value in that all four teams made the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

This year ends up being not as travel heavy as 2016-17 where the Gophers went to Alaska, the North Country and Boston all in a span of 7 weeks.

[UPDATE 5/4/2017: Minnesota's full schedule is released.]

Confirmed dates:

-24 Big Ten conference games (12 home, 11 road, 1 neutral site)
-Ice Breaker Tournament 10/6 & 10/7 in Duluth (vs. UMD; vs. Union/Michigan Tech) [Source: 2017 Ice Breaker announcement]
-at North Dakota 10/20-10/21 [Source: North Dakota schedule]
-vs. St. Cloud State 1/5/18 in Minneapolis; at St. Cloud State 1/6 [Source: St. Cloud State schedule]
-at Michigan State 1/18; vs. Michigan State in New York City 1/20* [Source: Big Ten hockey-hoops doubleheader announcement]

Unconfirmed dates:

-Home and home against Minnesota State
-Clarkson at home
-Mariucci Classic

-Technically the entire Big Ten conference schedule besides the NYC game.

The Minnesota State games will be announced later today. When they do I'll move them up. [UPDATE: Not happening this year, according to Minnesota State's schedule.]

Confirmed dates not happening

-North Star College Cup (RIP)
-Beanpot, GLI or any other in-state tournament
-Boston College and Northeastern, as that schedule agreement ended with last season's games
-That new tournament in Las Vegas or any January trips to Tempe.

Sorry folks looking for warm weather. Need to wait until October 2018.

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