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Gophers Hockey: How Minnesota's schedule is coming along

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All 20 Big Ten conference games were officially announced on Wednesday. Add other non-conference games and the outline of the 2015-16 campaign begins to make itself clear.

Nathan Wells/SBN College Hockey

It's June, it's raining outside here in Minnesota and the two dogs I'm currently watching are going nuts barking at lightning. At first two dogs trying to change the sky by barking at lightning is pretty adorable, but eventually you get tired of the same thing happening without fail. (If Mike Eaves is reading this, you can use or re-work this analogy free of charge.)

So what better time to write about hockey schedules?

Most of Minnesota's 2015-16 schedule is now publicly known. The Big Ten released today (June 3) the entire 20 game conference slate for all six teams, putting the biggest dent into a 34 game lineup.

(All dates are Friday/Saturday unless noted)

  • December 4/5 vs. Ohio State
  • December 11/12 at Michigan
  • January 8/9 at Penn State
  • January 15/16 vs. Michigan State
  • January 22/23 at Wisconsin
  • February 5/6 vs. Penn State
  • February 12/13 at Ohio State
  • February 25/26 (Thursday-Friday) vs. Michigan
  • March 4/5 at Michigan State
  • March 11/12 vs. Wisconsin
  • March 17-19 (Thursday-Saturday) Big Ten tournament at Xcel Energy Center

Minnesota ended up with a much more balanced Big Ten schedule, both by team and road/away split. 2015-16 doesn't have a single back-to-back series on the road  in conference play and the Gophers won't end the year with 8 of 12 at Mariucci Arena.

That said, having 4 of the first 6 games in Ann Arbor and State College is a B1G awakening for a younger Minnesota team that lost six seniors and three juniors early. Both venues are tough environments. The Gophers were swept handily by Michigan at Yost Arena a season ago, giving up 11 goals on the weekend. Penn State, meanwhile, only lost twice at Pegula Arena all last season. One of those was to Minnesota, though.

-There's also no "play a team twice in three weeks" stretch. In fact, the Gophers play all five conference foes once before beginning again.

-If the date stays the same as in past editions,January 16th against Michigan State would be Hockey Day Minnesota.

-Only one non-Friday and Saturday series, which works for me. I like having the occasional Thursday game because it can be a chance to stand out from every other game going on at the same time. College hockey doesn't have a large national TV presence and even fewer games aren't played in the same Friday-Saturday time slots.

On the other hand, arena attendance and TV ratings seem to show I might be alone here.

-Wisconsin just keeps showing up on weekends where the student section is not around. Minnesota's biggest conference rival went to Mariucci on Thanksgiving weekend in 2013-14, winter break in 2014-15 and now the beginning of spring break on the final weekend of the regular season. Seems like a missed opportunity. At least the Badgers shouldn't be playing during the Minnesota High School Boy's Hockey Tournament, which I believe is the prior week.

-No times or TV have been announced with the dates, but Minnesota and Wisconsin are never both at home on the same weekend. Could mean more 8 pm CT starts for the two Central Time Zone teams.

-Teams will have games in hand on one another up until the last couple weeks. And because of that fact there's a bye weekend in the middle of the conference season that stands out like a sore thumb.

Minnesota is off the same weekend (February 19-20) that the Minnesota Wild host Chicago in an NHL Stadium Series game at TCF Bank Stadium. (The Gopher women do play that weekend, hosting Wisconsin in the WCHA regular season finale.) Denver and Colorado College are playing an outdoor game with the other Stadium Series celebration out in Denver, but with Minnesota having hosted one at TCF two years ago and playing in another the year before, it would be surprising to see an unannounced non-conference game outdoors.

None of the local Minnesota or Upper Midwest teams are idle that weekend. In addition, the Gophers and head coach Don Lucia seemed to be ready to let the Wild, who will be running this event even if it's at TCF Bank Stadium, have the next crack at an outdoor game.

Although the Gophers have yet to publicly release a full non-conference schedule, a few can be discerned through other teams officially having done so.

  • October 16/17 vs. Minnesota Duluth (Friday October 16 at Mariucci, Saturday October 17 in Duluth) - announced by UMD
  • November 13/14 vs. Minnesota State (Friday Nov. 13 in Mankato, Saturday Nov. 14 at Mariucci) - announced by Minnesota State
  • December 30/31 Mariucci Classic (Wednesday/Thursday) with Ferris StateUConn is reportedly another team although the third listed in the article, Michigan Tech, has released its schedule and is not playing in the tournament. Team TBD so far is the favorite.
  • January 29/30 North Star College Cup at Xcel Energy Center with Bemidji State, St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. Minnesota faces the defending champion Beavers on the first day and either SCSU/MSU-M the next.

That's 27 or 28 of 34 games (not including an exhibition). 34 is two fewer than the past two seasons with the Gophers not participating in the Ice Breaker for a third year. The team isn't playing in any other situation where an exemption can be made, such as going to Alaska or playing in the US Hall of Fame Game.

Then there's the rest. Other teams scheduled to play Minnesota this year include St. Cloud State, Notre Dame and Northeastern. None of those teams have officially announced a non-conference schedule. St. Cloud State, whose NCHC conference schedule was released in April, has open NC dates for November 6-7 and November 27-28. Two other open dates have been accounted for with the Huskies playing WCHA schools.

Provided this is right, at least 7 of the 14 non-conference games feature an opponent that made the 2015 NCAA Tournament.

As for Northeastern and Notre Dame, it would make sense for both Hockey East schools to be in the early part of the year as part of the annual Big Ten-Hockey East challenge. October would make sense. There is so much time even with a couple early bye weeks (the on-off, on-off is something Wisconsin has done),

The Gophers are finishing up a long series with the Fighting Irish by going to South Bend one more time and should be hosting Northeastern after traveling to Boston last season. (Believe Minnesota goes out there again in 2016-17 along with North Dakota returning to the schedule.)

For more schedule analysis, Andy York of our sister site The Daily Gopher gave his own thoughts.

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Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter --