The Atlantic Hockey Conference announced on Monday all eleven team’s schedules for the 2020-21 hockey season. Due to COVID-19 and travel restrictions, the Atlantic Hockey Conference divided the conference into two divisions just for this season to help make the season possible.
The conference schedule features 24 games for every team and allows for each team to play up to 28 games. The season will conclude with the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, which will include all 11 teams in the conference and be finished with a final four matchup at Canisius’ home arena in the LECOM HarborCenter.
The eastern division for this season includes AIC, Army, Bentley, Holy Cross and Sacred Heart as the five teams, while the west division includes Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara, RIT and Robert Morris. The one outlier in the conference is Air Force, located in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Falcons will play a two game series against every team in the conference this season, along with a home and away series against Long Island University.
Every team in the western and eastern division will play each other five times this season, along with one series against non-conference Long Island University. This is LIU’s first season as a Division I hockey program, and it is quite the year for them to join the ranks.
For Canisius, they will play their one non-conference series against LIU at home on Jan. 29 and 30. As for the rest of their schedule, they play Robert Morris twice at home in their five total games against them. They also only play two home games out of the five total against Niagara. As for the five games they play against RIT and Mercyhurst, they will have three of those games at the Harborcenter. The Griffs final series of the season will be their two meetings with the Air Force Falcons on Feb. 26 and 27 in Colorado Springs.
As the team prepares for the upcoming season, one of the challenges the Griffs will face like every other team in college hockey is making sure they practice and prepare for games safely in light of COVID-19. “I think COVID has brought a lot of challenges not only to our hockey team but day-to-day life in general,” head coach Trevor Large said. “Where we have been affected the most so far are the protocols. The focus has been on safety, and I think we have done an excellent job making sure the players are safe, and that we can practice in small groups and in different pods. There have been no cases since we have started and I have to give the guys credit for that.”
In a season with only one non-conference series, the importance of winning games is heightened, and for a younger team like the Griffs in a weird year with COVID-19, leadership is as important as it has ever been for the team.
“Leadership is my number one job,” Large said. “It’s my job to teach leadership skills, and for the more experienced players, we’re leaning on them for leadership during this global pandemic. We are preparing to handle adversity this season, whether it’s injuries, losing games, or COVID-19, we’re relying on our veteran players to help our younger guys handle that adversity.”
Most coaches like Large in a long season for any sport may emphasize to their players the importance of patience and learning. The old phrase of ‘it’s a marathon and not a sprint’ may be thrown out the window for this season.
“I’ve said before that a hockey season is not a sprint it’s a marathon,” Large explained. “I may change that this year, it may very well become a sprint. The teams that are most ready for the sprint and can handle adversity, and perhaps change the attitude if it becomes a marathon again, that’s the team that will be there at the end of the season raising the trophy and hanging a banner.”