Though not unexpected, the start of the 2020-21 college hockey season has officially been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Hockey Commissioners Association announced Thursday. The group represents the 11 NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey conferences.

The Western Collegiate Hockey Association, of which the Bemidji State men’s and women’s teams are members, did not announce a new start date for the season. That will be announced later this fall, along with return-to-play plans, new schedules and details on nonconference play, according to statements from the conference.

Each conference will announce plans for the season individually.

The original start date for the Division I women’s season was Sept. 19, and the men’s season was to start Oct. 3.

“We knew it was coming,” BSU women’s head coach Jim Scanlan said. “Obviously, with what’s going on in the country, and even locally (with) the NSIC canceling all fall sports, we couldn’t expect to think we could play Sept. 25 when football, soccer, volleyball was all shut down.”

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The BSU women were set to open the season Sept. 25-26 at home against RPI, though the series had already been canceled over the summer due to RPI not wanting to travel.

“I think we waited until the last possible time. Obviously, you’re hoping that you might be able to start on time,” BSU men’s head coach Tom Serratore said.

The Beaver men were to begin the season Oct. 3 against Minnesota in Minneapolis. The team also previously pushed back a nonconference trip to Merrimack and UMass-Lowell planned for Thanksgiving weekend to a future season, and replaced it with a home date against the Gophers on Nov. 28.

Many in the sport are optimistic there will be a season, even if the start date remains unknown at this time.

“We’re all very positive and very confident that there’s going to be a season,” Serratore said.

The NCHC was the only conference to announce a potential start date. The league anticipates starting “on or after” Nov. 20, it said in a release. The NCHC and WCHA, both the men’s and women’s leagues, were the only conferences to release their own statements Thursday.

“I think there’ll be a lot more clarity as time goes on right now,” Serratore said. “I think the biggest thing is that I don’t think you need to rush a decision right now (on a start date). You just have to let things play out a little bit.”

“There’s still a lot of unknowns,” Scanlan added. “It’ll be interesting now with football starting in the SEC and other places. What if they have an outbreak? What if something happens where on a college campus something goes seriously wrong? What will the NCAA do? What will colleges do?

“We just hope that things keep going in the right direction, in a positive direction. I know all of us here at Bemidji State and on all of the other campuses are doing their best.”

BSU players arrived back in town with the start of the semester Aug. 24 and have begun to work out in small groups.

Despite the delay, teams will still be permitted to begin in-season practices based on existing NCAA rules, while also following COVID-19 guidelines.

"We continue to engage in thorough evaluation and discussion of various options for safely opening the 2020-21 season, both nationally and within the WCHA, as the health and safety of everyone associated with our league is our top priority," WCHA men’s commissioner Bill Robertson said in a release. "There was a strong desire to open the season as scheduled on October 3, but that is not possible given the realities we are facing. While we are still finalizing plans for our season at this point, we owe it to our student-athletes, coaches, officials and great fans to acknowledge the fact we will not begin play on time."

"From day one, our discussions have centered around providing our student-athletes safe, meaningful competition opportunities," WCHA women’s commissioner Jennifer Flowers said in a statement. "While our desire was to begin the season as scheduled, our Board and the leadership at our member institutions recognize that is not an option given the current climate. … We look forward to announcing a start date as soon as it is reasonable to do so.”