Miami hockey to open season in Omaha ‘pod’

Miami's Phil Knies against North Dakota last season at Steve Cady Arena. Miami Athletics photo

Credit: Ricardo Trevino

Combined ShapeCaption
Miami's Phil Knies against North Dakota last season at Steve Cady Arena. Miami Athletics photo

Credit: Ricardo Trevino

Phil Knies didn’t yet know who Miami would be playing.

That didn’t matter. Just being able to talk during these COVID-19 pandemic days about playing somebody – anybody – was enough.

Knies and his fellow RedHawk ice hockey players know they’re scheduled to open their National Collegiate Hockey Conference schedule in early December at the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Baxter Arena. The NCHC recently announced that the eight conference teams would be split into two divisions – East and West – and will open their seasons with 10 games in the Omaha “pod,” beginning Dec. 1. .

“I think it’s awesome,” Knies, a senior forward, said on Wednesday. “We’re just grateful to have the opportunity to play. You look around and see schools cancelling sport, and we’re grateful that the NCHC was determined and made the effort to allow us to compete. We’re super excited”

Miami, which finished last season 8-21-5 overall and 5-16-3 in the conference, has been grouped with Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Western Michigan in the East Division. Colorado College, Denver, North Dakota and Omaha comprise the West Division. The two-part format allows the NCHC to minimize travel over what officials will hope will be a 26-game conference schedule.

Teams will play each division opponent six times (18 games total) and each cross-division opponent twice (eight games total). All cross-division games will take place in the pod to alleviate travel. From January through March, division foes will face each other in weekend series at home and on the road.

“Throughout the past eight months, we have learned to adjust and think creatively about how we live our personal and professional lives,” NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton said in a statement released by the conference. “I’m proud of our membership for their entrepreneurial spirit to build a concept grounded in health and safety that we believe gives a group of deserving student-athletes the best opportunity to conduct a successful season.”

COVID-19 testing will be conducted at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Protocols and a testing plan for the entire season are currently being developed, the NCHC said in its release.

“NCHC Presidents and Chancellors have been committed to finding ways for our student-athletes to return to the ice safely,” said Miami University President Greg Crawford, who also serves as chairman of the NCHC Board of Directors. “We believe this plan accomplishes that. On behalf of our Board of Directors, I want to thank the leadership of Dr. Jeffrey Gold at the University of Nebraska Omaha and University of Nebraska Medical Center for providing their institutional resources and medical expertise toward helping the Conference start the season successfully.”

Like Knies, Miami coach Chris Bergeron was excited to have something to anticipate. He knew Fenton and other NCHC officials had been pondering the “pod” models established by the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association.

“The players just wanted a plan,” the second-year coach said in a video on the Miami athletic website. “They’re 20-year-old boys. They wanted something. I’m excited for them.”

Knies is taking two classes in person and two online, and Miami will be conducting exams while the hockey team is scheduled to be in Omaha, but Bergeron didn’t anticipate many problems.

“Off the ice, everything is pretty much handled,” he said. “We’ve talked about the travel, and I’m sure hotels have been contacted and we’ll be told where we’ll be staying. One thing off the ice that we’ll have to focus on is exams. What if somebody is scheduled to take an exam when we’re scheduled to be playing? There are some moving parts that have to be handled. It will be a difficult time for everybody.”

Bergeron was mostly looking forward to getting back to just playing hockey.

“We’ll have about seven weeks of preparation, which is about normal,” he pointed out. “We’ll be able to focus on putting together a game plan and a lineup. We look forward to preparing this group.”

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