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National Womens Hockey League Announces Return To Play Plans

12 de Marzo de 2021 a las 15:03

Photo courtesy of The Puck Authority
By Justin Levine
Spanglish Sports World & The Puck Authority Columnist
TORONTO. - After a difficult attempt at a bubble through the month of January in Lake Placid, New York, the National Women’s Hockey League announced on Monday their return-to-play plan to complete season six.
Much like a report from Sports Business Journal, which indicated the plan was to wrap up at Warrior Ice Arena, the league has since confirmed their plans for a championship weekend to be hosted in Boston.
As cited by SBJ’s Mark J. Burns, the plans were negotiated by the board of governors, who addressed staff and players in a letter on February 18th. Speaking further to that, the league’s owners, on February 15th, had “voted unanimously” on seeding for the playoffs.
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
While several teams recently starting practicing in hopes of a return plan, the league is set to resume competition, which begins with the semis on Friday, March 26th. The structure for postseason seeding heading into the weekend will appear as follows:
  1. Toronto Six
  2. Minnesota Whitecaps
  3. Connecticut Whale
  4. Boston Pride
While some might be surprised to see Connecticut re-added for the playoffs, the team has been granted a second chance after needing to pull out before a game against the Whitecaps. Doing so before the “bubble” was punctured, Connecticut said after not showing up, “The Connecticut Whale prioritize our players’ health and safety above all else. When given the choice of competing vs. ensuring the physical and mental well-being of our team, we chose the latter. While we fell short of our goal to bring the Isobel Cup back to Connecticut, we know we made the best decision for our team. We are so grateful for our passionate fans who showed up strong and proud throughout the bubble to support the Whale.”
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
Addressing the matter from a league standpoint, commissioner Tyler Tumminia said about the decision, “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and they were under full knowledge coming into this bubble, like all sports leagues are experiencing. Unfortunately, we’ve now been trapped into what other sports leagues are experiencing as well, and this is no joke. We’re right in the middle of it.”
With a second chance at playoff glory, that means the Buffalo Beauts are out, as they now join the Metropolitan Riveters. While the virus didn’t run rampant with the Beauts, the team, in the end, did lose both Jordan Juron as well as Brooke Stacey. As such, that resulted in the addition of Lisa Chesson.
Connecticut faces a stiff challenge in the No. 2 seed, the Minnesota Whitecaps. Minnesota played hero early on, with a 2-1 win over the Boston Pride. Following the Isobel Cup rematch, the Whitecaps, in comeback fashion, secured a 6-5 victory against the regular season champions. Thanks to their hungry offence, they then beat the Riveters 1-0 before falling 4-3 to the Toronto Six.
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
That means the Toronto Six will go head-to-head against the host team, the Boston Pride. Toronto started off in Lake Placid with a pair of losses while continuing to gel together, but from there, the offence took off and the newest expansion team never looked back. Led by team president Digit Murphy, they look to make league history and bring the cup home to Canada.
Joined by Commissioner Tumminia and Toronto Six owner Johanna-Neilson Boynton, Toronto’s first head coach said of the team’s disappointment upon suspension, “We felt 100 percent safe, and all we wanted to do was play the game… We would have died if we could play the game. We would have died if we could have played against Minnesota. Our kids just wanted to play hockey. They were safe, they were looked after. And we knew when we came in, it was huge – we were going from like 100 cases to 100 million cases. But we wanted to play, so we’re here.”
On the other side of this tilt are the No. 4 seed, the Boston Pride. While Boston is a formidable squad, they couldn’t keep up in Lake Placid and didn’t meet expectations against such talented opponents. During their run at Herb Brooks Arena, Boston lost Jenna Rheault to a wrist fracture, while Mary Parker opted out and headed home.
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
The team also had several COVID cases, the list including Fratkin and head coach, Paul Mara. Given the unique nature of the season, three teams were sharing a hotel together, meanwhile, the Pride had a hotel to themselves.
While that seems to indicate on-ice transmission, a source told The Puck Authority after it ended, “It was clear protocols weren’t being followed and players didn’t feel safe.” Images posted to social media showed the Buffalo Beauts were among the teams not complying with guidelines, as laid out by the league.
Now that staff and players have gone home, it has given the league several weeks to meet and discuss their next steps with an objective to finish. Speaking further to that note, Kaleigh Fratkin joined NESN on February 11th, telling host Cealey Godwin that the league discussed a new blueprint for the Isobel Cup Playoffs by mid-to-late March. During the conversation, the defender said the goal for the team was to get everybody healthy and set to get back to training.
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
With that in mind, the three games will be aired on NBC, with the semis on a Friday and the final played on Saturday. Addressing the added protocols for the event, commissioner Tyler Tumminia said Monday in a statement, “International Women’s Day is the perfect time to promote our athletes who will have the platform to make ‘HER story’ by finishing what they started in a safe environment. It means a great deal to our athletes to have the opportunity to compete to lift the Isobel Cup and to be supported by partners who are committed to growing the women’s game. We extend our appreciation to the Boston Bruins, NBCSN, Twitch, and our sponsors – especially Discover – for making this possible. Hockey fans will be inspired by the skill and dedication of our athletes, but we’re all especially excited about the message this sends to the young girls and boys who will be watching.”
With NBCSN carrying the Isobel Cup Playoffs, it becomes the first time that women’s pro hockey is carried live in the U.S. on a national cable network. Airing exclusively in the U.S., streams and coverage will also be available on the NBC Sports App and
Before the Lake Placid bubble fell apart, the network assigned a stellar broadcast crew, made up of A.J. Mleczko, John Forslund and Kathryn Tappen. Committed to growing the women’s game, Michael Perman, VP of programming, said in a statement, “As the home of hockey in the U.S., NBC Sports is proud to showcase the NWHL to a national audience. These live broadcasts on NBCSN further our commitment to showcasing the game at all levels.”
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
As per the official press release, On Her Turf – NBC Sports’ Female Empowerment brand – will be integrated into Isobel Cup Semifinal and Final coverage on NBCSN as well as across content on NBC Sports’ social and digital channels leading up to and during the games.
With the same goal and mission in mind, the league announced back in January a landmark partnership with Discover Financial Services. Becoming the league’s official credit card, this agreement goes leaps and bounds for the players, who as a result, will see their yearly salaries increase.
When Twitch became the league’s official broadcast partner, it helped towards a long-term objective to designate 50 percent of league-wide sponsorship revenue to its athletes. Adding Discover to the fold is yet another significant steppingstone. Speaking to their support of the women’s game, Kate Manfred, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, stated, “When Discover committed to the NWHL, our hope was that our support would continue the rapid growth of girls in sports, the league, and the sport of hockey. With the NWHL pushing forward with the Isobel Cup Playoffs, and the event being the first women’s professional hockey league games to air on a major national network in the U.S., we are already seeing a positive impact being made in women’s sports, and we look forward to seeing who will ultimately raise the Isobel Cup.”
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
Taking place in Brighton, Massachusetts, the playoffs will be held with no fans, while for safety of all teams, including tightened health and safety protocols. These measures will be more strictly enforced. New to their season-ending framework, daily COVID-19 testing will be administered for all players and staff.
As cited by the NWHL, Warrior Ice Arena itself will also lay down strict health and safety protocols. Much like the league’s directives, the protocols will be designed and enforced at the discretion of state health authorities and NWHL medical advisors. Additional details for clarity will be made available before Championship Weekend.
Expectations are that much like Lake Placid; the only points of entry will be the arena and team hotel. Ending the season where last year’s playoffs were cancelled, the Pride’s home is ecstatic to host the Isobel Cup Playoffs. “Since 2016, Warrior Ice Arena has been the home of professionals, current and future, who inspire and elevate performance,” says Jay Rourke, the arena’s general manager. “We are honored to be chosen to host the Isobel Cup Finals on the national stage and look forward to the excitement and energy we’re accustomed to as the home ice arena of the Boston Pride.”
Photo courtesy of Maddie Meyer, Getty Images North America
Those based in Canada and overseas can stream all three games on In year two of their three-year agreement, the league saw an increase in viewership by a whopping 140 percent. They also saw a rise in followers by 304 percent, as compared to 2020.
Speaking of streaming successes, the league saw its largest viewing in Lake Placid, with an incredible 1.62 million live views. That included 14.2 million minutes watched through the 15 games. In a game between the Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts on January 30th, the highest audience was reached at upwards of 32,000 concurrent viewers.
Looking ahead to the finishing chapter, commissioner Ty Tumminia told The Canadian Press, “We’re just grateful to all those who believe in our athletes and really supported this quest to finish the Cup. We’re grateful for all the athletes. They had to support it first. They definitely didn’t want two years without the Cup being raised.”
Photo courtesy of Toronto Six, NWHL
For the Toronto Six, facing so much adversity has allowed the franchise to weather their inaugural season. Getting to where they did despite limited practices, head coach Digit Murphy is feeling confident about her hockey club. “Our brand of fun, fast and furious, we live it on the ice. I think it’s going to be hard to duplicate that. We’ll come with a different game plan, but we definitely belong. We’re here to stay.”
Even with the potential of empty roster spots, Digit knows must happen to hold their ground and claim the championship. “These guys have to work. We’ll do it with what we have. We’ll be the T6 and overcome adversity.” Taking the bus from Toronto to Boston, the Six will battle and rally with only 16-17 players.
The semifinals begin Friday at 5:00pmET, as the Boston Pride take on the top-seeded Toronto Six. At 8:00pm, the Connecticut Whale go head-to-head with the Minnesota Whitecaps. The winners of each game respectively will then advance to the Isobel Cup Final. This will take place on Saturday, with puck drop scheduled for 7:00pmET.