It’s understandable if you are feeling a little impatient this week. In these uncertain times, people are clamoring for an answer. But there’s a good chance the announcement will come soon, bringing with it the news we’ve all been waiting for.
Yes, if all goes well these next few days, Hockey East will announce its schedule for the 2020-21 season, with games potentially beginning as soon as Nov. 20.
It’s been a long time coming for college hockey fans who have seen other Division 1 conferences release their schedules in recent weeks, but announcing a return to the ice amidst the COVID-19 pandemic is no small undertaking. League officials sought to come up with a return-to-play plan that would have testing protocols in place, along with medical guidelines that would line up with regulations for each of the six states in New England.
They benefitted from watching how other sports have returned to action, both in the pros and in college. The implementation of a bubble, which the NBA and NHL used to successfully complete the 2019-20 postseason, is not a feasible option, but officials believe that limiting games to league competition, thereby keeping teams in New England, can mitigate some of those factors.
The league has also been encouraged by the success of the Boston College football team, which reported earlier this week that out of 6,500 tests since the team returned in June, just one player has tested positive — and that was during the first week after players arrived.
There was also the issue of getting all the schools on the same page. Some programs had actually hoped to begin play this weekend, while others believe they are still a few weeks away. The weekend of Nov. 20 is the preferred route, even if it is just some of the schools starting up. Some programs may start the following week, and the belief is that all teams will be playing by the first week in December.
A key factor is the academic schedule. Many schools are working out scenarios to allow students heading home for Thanksgiving to finish the semester remotely instead of returning to campus after the holiday, and some schools are looking to push the start of the spring semester to February.
That would give teams a 10-to-12 week window to play without the rest of the student body on campus, the idea being that with fewer bodies around, a COVID outbreak would be less likely.
The goal is for each school to play every school twice, resulting in a 20-game schedule for the 11 men’s teams, and 18 games for the 10 women’s teams.
Having learned from the struggles of the NFL and MLB teams when confronted with outbreaks, there will be some flexibility built into the schedule, both in-season and toward the end.
The games will look different, as fans will not be in attendance, as least for the beginning of the season. Whether they are allowed to attend as the season goes on may be up to the individual schools and the guidelines of the state in which they play.
Also, there will no postgame handshake line, although to honor the display of sportsmanship, one idea being considered is the teams lining up on their respective blue lines and saluting each other with a stick tap.
The starting times may be altered as as well. Puck drop for most games last season was 7 or 7:30 p.m., and Hockey East is still determining if Governor Charlie Baker’s order for businesses to close by 9:30 p.m. applies to the schools that play in-state. However, the league already was reconsidering moving start times up since there will be no fans.
Should the league be fortunate enough to make it through the regular season without any postponements or rescheduled games, it is possible that additional games may be added ahead of the conference tournament.
And yes, you read that right: The league intends to crown a champion for both the regular season and the postseason.
It hasn’t been determined what the playoffs will look like, but officials expect they will return for the men, whose tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus. The women’s tournament finished just under the wire, with Northeastern taking home the title.
But there is plenty that will have to go right for that to happen. The first step would be a regular season, and that could very well begin in two weeks.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.