When Hockey East announced in November it was ready to proceed with the 2020-21 season, the league included at the end of its press release the caveat all schedules were tentative and subject to change.
With postponements and the rescheduling of games happening on a weekly basis, it was clear the season was not going to unfold exactly as Hockey East officials had planned. So on Tuesday, the league announced the previously released schedules for the men’s and women’s leagues would be set aside, and the rest of the season would be scheduled on a weekly basis.
“The move comes with a stated goal to create as much variety and parity in the schedule as possible while adhering to all required health and safety protocols,” the statement read.
The news hardly came as a surprise to the league’s coaches, who were on board to get in as many games as possible over the remaining seven weeks of the regular season.
“It’s a sign of what we’re going through. We all have to stay flexible,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman, whose squad is scheduled to face No. 8 UMass in a pair of games this weekend. “I’m happy we’re playing this weekend because we’re healthy. As a coach, you want to see when your team’s healthy, you want to see them playing. You want them moving.”
The league is aiming to stage the maximum amount of games as possible, although there will certainly be some quirks. The schedule has already become a bit unbalanced, with some teams having already faced each other four times. While UMass has already played 15 games thus far, Boston University and UMass-Lowell have only played four games all season.
“We want to play everybody, but we don’t control that,” said Leaman. “You hope everything is going to even out, that everyone’s going to get a crack at everyone.”
Connecticut’s schedule may be the most unbalanced in the league. After this weekend’s home-and-home series with No. 1 Boston College, seven of UConn’s 13 games this season will have been against the Eagles and Minutemen.
“It’s great. We get another chance to play Boston College,” said UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh. “We can’t control those things, so there’s no sense worrying about it or getting upset about it. At the end of the year, all of the teams are getting into the tournament and the team that’s been able to handle this mentally is going to have the best chance to win the tournament this year.”
Both BC (8-2) and UConn (5-5-1) will look a little different this time around. The teams split the first two times they met this season, with the home team prevailing each time. There were six players between the two teams who played in the World Junior Championships for the series on Dec. 11-12, but all have returned to campus.
BC forward Alex Newhook has been battling a shoulder injury and was considered questionable on Thursday, but forward Matt Boldy, goalie Spencer Knight and defenseman Drew Helleson will be facing the Huskies for the first time this season. UConn returns defenseman Yan Kuznetsov and forward Vladislav Firstov from the Russian team.
The Eagles moved up to the top spot in the rankings after last weekend’s sweep of Merrimack, but BC coach Jerry York is focusing on a UConn team that handed the Eagles their first loss of the season.
“That was a great weekend for us against Merrimack. I thought our kids played hard,” said York. “But we’re changing gears and looking through the windshield. That’s what I told our guys. We’re not looking at the rankings and the national polls. That’s rearview mirror stuff.”
The Huskies are coming off a sweep of UNH. Junior Jonny Evans had four points over the weekend and was named the conference’s player of the week. He leads the team in scoring with six goals and seven assists.
Going old school
Boston University (3-1) has looked strong in its first two weekends of play. After opening with a split against No. 18 Providence, the Terriers swept UMass last weekend to snap the Minutemen’s seven-game winning streak. Senior defenseman David Farrance has picked up where he left off last season and leads the team with three goals and five assists.
It’s an impressive start, especially considering the team has not had much time on the ice. BU coach Albie O’Connell credits his team’s leadership.
“The guys have done a pretty good job of keeping in shape, even when we were away and shut down,” said O’Connell. “Our captain [Logan Cockerill] basically said ‘Christmas break is a break, but we’ve got to come back in shape.’ I think that’s been a major factor — the leadership, and what those guys have done. It showed in the weight room, because we haven’t been on the ice the whole time.”
The Terriers are scheduled to host Maine (2-5-1) this weekend for a pair of games While the team continues to practice at Agganis Arena, the games are being played at Walter Brown Arena. Agganis is being used as a COVID testing facility for the campus, with access limited to the BU community. On Thursdays, the team practices at Walter Brown, where the men’s program played from 1971-2005, to get acclimated with the ice sheet ahead of that weekend’s games.
“Things happen quick. It’s very small in comparison to Agganis,” said O’Connell, who played at Walter Brown as a member of BU men’s hockey team from 1995-99. “A lot of great memories. Our guys have embraced it.
“It’s still loud, even though there’s not a lot of people in the building, because the ceilings are so low, so it probably gives a little bit better environment this year with no fans.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.