University of Maine's Edward Lindelow skates against a player from University of Alaska Fairbanks during a hockey game at Alfond Arena on Jan. 7, 2022. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Changes are coming for Division I men’s and women’s college hockey programs, the NCAA recently announced.

Beginning this season, teams can schedule exhibition games against other Division I teams without seeking a waiver from the NCAA.

In addition, teams will be able to start their full practices a week earlier.

Division I teams are allowed to have eight hours of practice per week in September — four hours on the ice and four hours off the ice — before that expands to 20 hours per week the first full week of October.

Now the men’s programs will be able to jump from eight hours to 20 hours for the last week of September. The women’s programs start a week earlier than the men.

Teams usually play one exhibition game the first week of October, typically against a Canadian school.

UMaine was scheduled to play the University of Prince Edward Island in an exhibition game this past season but travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the game to be canceled, as it did for other exhibitions between U.S. teams and Canadian colleges.

Schools were allowed to book an exhibition against another U.S. team. UMaine wound up playing Quinnipiac from the ECAC.

UMaine head coach Ben Barr said the two changes “aren’t a big deal, but it does give you more flexibility and that’s a good thing.”

He said the exhibition game rule won’t make that big of a difference for UMaine because it’s easier to schedule Canadian teams.

“Every school will handle it differently,” he said. “It’s not a bad thing.”

UMaine has usually played Canadian college teams from the Maritime provinces, especially powerhouse the University of New Brunswick, which has won eight Canadian national championships.

“In the big picture, whether you play an exhibition game against the University of New Brunswick or the University of New Hampshire, there are pros and cons to both,” Barr said.

He said getting an extra 20-hour week isn’t a major development because they usually get the work they need to get in during an eight-hour span during the week anyway.

A continuing development in Division I college hockey is the addition of new programs.

Lindenwood University from St. Charles, Missouri, will begin play this coming season as will Stonehill College (Massachusetts) and Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, will start in the fall of 2023 and will be in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

Long-established programs Alaska-Anchorage and Robert Morris didn’t have teams this season, but both will be returning within the next two seasons.

Long Island University and St. Thomas University from St. Paul, Minnesota, just came on board within the past two years.

LIU’s first season was 2020-21 and St Thomas’ was this past season.

“The more teams the better,” Barr said. “There are enough good hockey players out there.”