The Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team will open the 2020-21 season in the NCHC pod in Omaha, Nebraska, playing seven games in a 12-day span with no more than a single day off in between puck drops to start.

While playing every other day might be a unique experience for much of the league, it won’t be for those who have taken part in recent World Junior Championship tournaments like Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin and captain Noah Cates.

Cates was part of the 2019 U.S. Junior National Team that played seven games in 11 days en route to a silver medal in British Columbia. Sandelin was on the coaching staff of that team as an assistant, and the head coach in 2020 when the U.S. finished sixth after playing five games in eight days in the Czech Republic.

As the Bulldogs coach prepares his team for the pod in Omaha, Sandelin said he plans to lean “a little bit” on that recent World Juniors experience to get his team through their first 10 games of 2020-21.

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“It’s similar to some of the things I’ve gone through with the World Juniors,” Sandelin said of the Bulldogs’ schedule that was released on Monday. “You've got to pick and choose the days.

“The thing guys don’t understand is rest is so important. That’s one thing we have to consider all the time as a coaching staff.”

The Bulldogs are scheduled to arrive in Omaha on Nov. 29 along with the three other teams who begin their season on Dec. 2 — Miami, North Dakota and Denver. The league’s other four teams who all open on Dec. 1 — Colorado College, Western Michigan, St. Cloud State and the host Nebraska-Omaha — check in on Nov. 28.

Sandelin had yet to see a practice schedule as of Monday afternoon — he expects one later this week for Baxter Arena’s two ice sheets — but he anticipates the team will get to practice on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 before opening against the Pioneers on Dec. 2.

UMD then plays every other day until back-to-back games Dec. 12-13 against Denver and Colorado College. That’s where Sandelin said he’ll have to manage his team’s rest the most.

Game and practice times will often influence what the team does — for instance, they may not practice the day after a noon game, but instead the morning of a 7:30 p.m. puck drop — as well as his student-athletes’ academic schedules.

“As much as you want to practice, you got to really be smart with that,” Sandelin said. “Early on that first week is maybe a little different just because you’re getting started and there’s things you want to fine tune. But I can tell you the deeper you go, the most important thing is rest. That’s something that I’m looking at based on some of those experiences.”

Sandelin said some practices may just be teaching days, while others could just be short stints on the ice so his players don’t get too cooped up in their hotel rooms. It’s all about picking and choosing your days, something Sandelin said was incredibly important at last year’s World Juniors.

MInnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin watches a late October practice at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)
MInnesota Duluth coach Scott Sandelin watches a late October practice at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. (Clint Austin/caustin@duluthnews.com)

During the preliminary round, Team USA played on back-to-back days twice in a five-day span with just a single day off in between. Sandelin kept his team off the ice that day, sensing they needed a physical and mental break.

“We didn’t even do any video because we just didn’t want them to think about hockey for a day,” Sandelin said.