Two hundred seventy-five miles.
If there's a figure that illustrates just how different the Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be this season, that number — that distance — might be it.
The Minnesota State men's hockey team traveled that far on Thursday, busing from Mankato to Bemdji for its conference-opening series against Bemidji State. The two teams will play tonight and Saturday at the Sanford Center. It will be the shortest road trip for the Mavericks in conference play this season.
In previous years, the Bemidji trip ranked fourth on the distance list, behind travel to play Minnesota, St. Cloud State and Minnesota Duluth. But then college hockey's conference shakeup took place, leaving a very different-looking WCHA after the Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey Conference formed.
"It's definitely weird," Mavericks junior Zach Palmquist said, "especially with Minnesota an hour away and not seeing them in conference play. There's a little more travel, and we'll get adapted to that. But we're definitely excited to get the conference schedule going."
The Mavericks will play the Gophers in a nonconference series on Nov. 15-16 and return to the Twin Cities in January for the North Star College Cup tournament with Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Minnesota.
But the WCHA schedule this season will consist of long trips to Bowling Green, Ohio (680 miles); Huntsville, Alabama (950 miles); Marquette, Mich. (480 miles) and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. (620 miles), not to mention back-to-back series in Alaska in early January against Anchorage and Fairbanks.
When they don't fly, the Mavericks will employ a sleeper bus for the long road trips.
"Everyone came from junior hockey and is used to long bus rides like that," junior forward Chase Grant said. "I don't think that will be a big factor for us. They treat us well on the road."