For the first time since March 11, college sports are returning to Ferris State University.
At noon Wednesday, Oct. 28, the WCHA announced that college hockey would begin to play on Nov. 27, making hockey the first collegiate sport to return to the university since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of this year. The conference will be attempting a 23-game schedule that will see the Bulldogs take to the ice by the end of November.
The Bulldogs will open their season at Lake Superior State on Nov. 27 before Lake Superior State come to Big Rapids for the home opener on Nov. 29. The Bulldogs will have twelve home games and eleven away games over the course of the season.
The first five games of the season throughout the months of November and December, will be considered non-league games, not counting towards league standings even though these five games consist of opponents inside the WCHA. The five games include three home games against Lake Superior State, Alabama Huntsville, and Bowling Green, and two away games at Lake Superior State and Bowling Green. After the five non-conference games, there will be a three-week break from Dec. 12 to Jan. 1.
With the non-conference schedule being against conference teams such as Bowling Green and Lake Superior State, Daniels explained that the main focus will be to prepare for the conference schedule starting on Jan. 1. With the focus being to sort out what is best for the team.
“This will be almost like a true NHL preseason where we’ll have a training camp and then some exhibition games and then you start playing when it all counts on January 1,” Daniels said. “We have ten freshmen this year, last year we had ten, we have 20 underclassmen so we have a lot of work to do. Since we haven’t worked together as a team yet, so trying to pick lines and defense partners. We haven’t had a chance to sort out the goalies yet, so we’re going to use these games as a way to really try to sift through and find out what really is the best lineup.”
Conference play will begin Jan. 1 against Bowling Green, wrapping up a four-game series against the Falcons that will stretch across the new year.
A surprising feature with the schedule is the inclusion of multiple homes and home series, with three home-and-home weekends taking place against Lake Superior State and Bowling Green. According to Daniels, this was to minimize contact with other facilities outside of Big Rapids.
“That’s to reduce overnight stays, eating at stadium restaurants. We going to simply go down the day of the game, eat our meal on the bus on the way there. We’ll then get out and play then on the way home we’ll eat another meal on the bus. That saves extra contact in restaurants and hotels. We’re going to do whatever we can, during conference play we’re going to have to stay overnight, but we’re going to do everything we can to minimize the contact that we have.” Daniels said.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the season will end on Feb. 27 in the same place that it will start, at home against Lake Superior State.
The weekend of March 5-6 has been designated as a bye weekend for all 10 schools and will be used as a make-up game weekend should any league series or single games be postponed. Daniels explained the need to be flexible this season and how the conference will possibly play out based on possible cancellations.
“We understand that there’s going to be problems somewhere whether it’s other teams or us may have a cancellation or hopefully a postponement but there’s going to cancellations just like college football so we’re prepared we’ve got policies in place that the conference champion for the regular season is going to go off of winning percentage based on how you’ve played X amount of games. It’s not necessarily going to be a point total, it will be more of a winning percentage this year.” Daniels said.
The university is still in discussions about what the attendance policy will be for the season, with Ferris State Athletics stating that ticket policies will be announced at a later date.
The format for the 2021 WCHA Postseason Tournament is will be determined in the coming weeks. The postseason will play out over the weekends of March 12-13 and March 19-20.
This will also be the last year for the WCHA, as the conference will be dissolving before the 2021-22 season. Ferris will then be joining the restarted CCHA conference that will include all of the WCHA teams except Alabama-Huntsville, Alaska, and Alaska Anchorage, and will add St.Thomas. The CCHA was the original conference that Ferris joined in 1979 and stayed in until the dissolution of the conference in 2013.