Thursday, June 8, 2017

Minnesota Releases Tentative 2017-18 Schedule & Thoughts

Start mapping out Minnesota's trek to make a seventh consecutive Frozen Four appearance.

Both the Gophers and WCHA released a composite 2017-18 women's hockey schedule on Thursday. The delay was due in part to teams needing to replace four games on the schedule after North Dakota suddenly dropped its women's hockey program in late March.

Each of the remaining seven WCHA teams will play 24 conference games (a home and away series against one another). In addition, Minnesota (26-8-5 in 2016-17) will face four non-conference foes - Hockey East teams Merrimack and Vermont, along with CHA teams Mercyhurst and Lindenwood - playing a total off 33 games.

Brad Frost's team begins the year hosting Merrimack (11-22-3 in 2016-17, 8th out of 9 teams) either September 29th or 30th.

2017-18 Minnesota Schedule (Tentative)

Note: The Gophers will play two games over a three-day weekend. Times and concrete dates will be announced later this summer.

9/24/17 (Sunday) - Korean National Team (Exhibition)
9/29-10/1/17 - Merrimack
10/6-10/8/17 - Ohio State*
10/13-10/15/17 - at Bemidji State*
10/20-10/22/17 - at Minnesota Duluth*
10/27-10/29/17 - Wisconsin*
11/3-11/5/17 - at Minnesota State*
11/10-11/12/17 - at Mercyhurst
11/17-11/19/17 - St. Cloud State*
11/24-11/26/17 - at Lindenwood
12/1-12/3/17 - Bemidji State*
12/8-12/10/17 - Minnesota Duluth*
1/5-1/7/18 - BYE
1/9/2018 (Tuesday) - St. Cloud State
1/12-1/14/18 - Vermont
1/19-1/21/18 - at Ohio State*
1/26-1/28/18 - Minnesota State*
2/2-2/4/18 - at St. Cloud State*
2/9-2/11/18 - BYE
2/16-2/18/18 - at Wisconsin*

2018 WCHA Tournament
2/23-2/25/2018 - WCHA Quarterfinals+
3/3/2018 - WCHA Final Face-Off Semifinals (Ridder Arena)
3/4/2018 - WCHA Final Face-Off Championship Game (Ridder Arena)

2018 NCAA Tournament
3/10-3/11/2018 - NCAA Quarterfinals+
3/16/2018 - Frozen Four Semifinals (Ridder Arena)
3/18/2018 - Frozen Four Championship Game (Ridder Arena)

*WCHA Conference Game
+Home ice at higher seed (In case of WCHA Tournament, #1 seed gets a bye to WCHA Final Face-Off.)

Schedule Thoughts

-Once again, Minnesota is playing 33 games that count, or 1 less than the maximum number, and a WCHA team as a non-conference game.

At first glance it's a decent schedule, all things considered. My big question before the release was whether the team would successfully add extra non-conference games against teams outside the WCHA. Given short notice and past problems lining up opponents, it wasn't a guarantee. Several teams made creative decisions to fill out the schedule.

For example, Minnesota State plays Lindenwood four times. Bemidji State plays non-conference games against UMD and St. Cloud State, which only has 30 college games scheduled.

-That said, Minnesota's non-conference game against WCHA foe St. Cloud State is not the United States Hall of Fame Game.

-Compared to some of the other top WCHA teams, Minnesota's strength of schedule could be better. The Gophers don't have a non-conference test like Wisconsin, which faces BU and Northeastern (in Washington DC), or UMD going to Boston College (reciprocating last year's series in Duluth). None of the non-conference opponents made last year's NCAA Tournament.

Playing at Mercyhurst, a perennial CHA and NCAA Tournament challenger, could be a good test although the Lakers went 15-18-2 and finished 3rd in the CHA last season. Minnesota also hosts a Vermont team (15-14-9, 5th place in Hockey East) that won its quarterfinal round series last season and beat some of the top schools in conference along the way.

-Opening the year with four games at home against Merrimack (a program in its third year) and Ohio State helps Minnesota ease into the year. That's good because those games precede a six-game stretch where the Gophers go on the road to both Bemidji State and Duluth, places where the Gophers have struggled (although Minnesota did beat the Bulldogs at Amsoil Arena in the NCAAs), before hosting NCAA runner-up Wisconsin.

-Minnesota ends the regular season in Madison against the Badgers. After several years of the two teams spending February deciding the WCHA in Minneapolis, Wisconsin gets its turn.

-There's no long period of time where the Gophers are away from Ridder Arena like last season. The team does have a stretch where 8 of 10 games are on the road (the 2 home being Wisconsin).

-One thing I'm interested in seeing play out is Minnesota plays 11 weekends straight (12 if you include the exhibition) to start the year. How does that affect the Gophers towards the end of the stretch, with a first half ending against UMD? Does being idle before playing Wisconsin to end the regular season help?

Having some extra time to heal up in January and February and playoffs was something Minnesota could have used at times last season.

-Surprisingly the Minnesota Whitecaps currently are not on the schedule. The Whitecaps, presently without a league, are playing 9 games against UMD, Minnesota State and St. Cloud State. Even with this being an Olympic year and missing several top Americans, the team seems to be made up primarily of Twin Cities-based post-collegiate players and Gopher alums that use Ridder Arena as a home base.

There is an opening January 5th for both teams if the Gophers end up wanting to once again start the second half against the Whitecaps and ease into college games following an idle month. Opening up against the Korean national team helps in that aspect to begin the year.

-Speaking of national teams, the Olympics take place during the final two weeks of the regular season and first round of the WCHA playoffs.

-Weekends the Minnesota women's and men's hockey teams are both at home:

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