2020–21 NWHL season

The 2020–21 NWHL season was the sixth season of the National Women's Hockey League in North America. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the season was held in a bubble in Lake Placid, New York, from January to February 2021, with all five teams returning from the previous season, along with the Toronto Six expansion team as the first Canada-based team to play in the league. The season was suspended again due to positive cases of COVID-19 within the bubble.[1] On March 8, 2021, the league announced that the Isobel Cup playoffs would re-commence on March 26 and 27 at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, Massachusetts.[2]

2020–21 NWHL season
NWHL 2021 Lake Placid Logo.jpg
LeagueNational Women's Hockey League
SportIce hockey
DurationJanuary 23 – March 27, 2021
Number of teams6
Total attendance0 (COVID-19 bubble)
TV partner(s)Twitch
NBC Sports Network (Isobel Cup final & semifinals)
Regular season
Season championsToronto Six
Season MVPMikyla Grant-Mentis (Toronto)
Top scorerTied at 9 points:
Kaleigh Fratkin (Boston)
Mikyla Grant-Mentis (Toronto)
Isobel Cup
ChampionsBoston Pride
  Runners-upMinnesota Whitecaps
Finals MVPJillian Dempsey
NWHL seasons

League businessEdit

At the end of April 2020, the NWHL announced the expansion of league with the addition of a new team in Toronto called the Toronto Six.[3] As part of the expansion announcement, the league stated it planned to have a delayed start to the 2020–21 regular season due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, beginning in mid-November 2020 and the Isobel Cup playoffs to begin in March 2021, with each team playing 20 games.[4] Players in the Professional Women's Hockey Players Association (PWHPA), formed after the 2019 collapse of the Canadian Women's Hockey League, continued to hold out from all North American hockey leagues for planned 2021 Dream Gap Tour.[5] In July 2020, the planned start date was pushed back again to January 2021 with each team still set to play 20 games.[6]

In October 2020, the league reorganized its governance structure in the aim of prioritizing independent ownership of teams as the expansion into Toronto added another independently owned team. As part of the reorganization, Dani Rylan stepped down as league commissioner to lead the search for independent ownership of the four league-owned teams, while Tyler Tumminia became the interim commissioner. A six-member Board of Governors was created with the intent of each team having single representative.[7]

At the end of November, the Minnesota Whitecaps revealed their jersey designs for the season, the last team in the league to do so. The jerseys for most teams were designed in-house, led by Ksenia Selemon, the director of marketing for the four league-owned teams.[8] In early December 2020, the league announced a partnership with analytics company Stathletes, led by Meghan Chayka, to provide data and statistics for the season.[9] The league also announced a partnership with InStat Hockey to provide video analysis services.[10]

Before the start of the season, the league announced that all jerseys worn during the season would carry a patch stating "End Racism" and would support any players kneeling for the anthem in protest against racism. The league, however, did not announce any further details on how it planned to combat racism in the sport.[11] On January 26, the league released a statement condemning Barstool Sports after Barstool CEO Erika Nardini targeted several women's hockey reporters and league staff with harassment on social media.[12][13] Barstool had previously faced criticism following repeated misogynistic and racist incidents, with Metropolitan Riveters rookie Saroya Tinker notably being the first NWHL player to publicly condemn the company.[14] The league's statement further clarified that it would not accept club ownership bids from companies that did not share the league's values.[15]

In mid-January 2021, Boston Pride general manager Hayley Moore announced that she would be leaving the league at the end of the bubble season to start a new role as vice president of hockey operations with the American Hockey League, becoming one of the highest-ranking female executives in men's ice hockey leagues in the world.[16]

During the season, the league announced it had secured a sponsorship with Discover Card, the NWHL's largest sponsorship to date. Discover is also a major sponsor of the National Hockey League. As part of the deal, Discover became the presenting sponsor of the Isobel Cup playoffs. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.[17] Before the playoffs began, the league added Dick's Sporting Goods as the presenting sponsor of the Isobel Cup trophy and playoff most valuable player award.[18]

COVID-19 bubbleEdit

The league had originally planned to play a full season under a "sprint to the Cup" model, with the full 20 game season playing out over 10 weeks, but by October 2020, with the pandemic worsening and leagues such as the NFL failing to keep their players safe, the NWHL leadership decided that they would need to change formats.[19] On November 25, 2020, the league announced the entire season would be held in a bubble with all games at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York, from January 23 to February 5, 2021. In the announced schedule, each of the six teams would play five games, one against each other team, before a round-robin tournament for final seeding of the Isobel Cup playoffs. The playoffs were to be single game semifinals with the championship game taking place on February 5.[20][21] The plan was to follow similar bubble models that had been used successfully at the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup and the 2020 WNBA Playoffs.[22]

One of the main concerns with the bubble format was the part-time professional status of the league. Since the maximum league salary is US$15,000, almost all players hold full-time jobs outside of hockey, including several who work in healthcare. After negotiations with the Premier Hockey Federation Players' Association, the league guaranteed that players would be paid the same salary as they would have received for a full season of play. Players were also given the option to opt out of the tournament without losing their salary.[23] The league partnered with the Yale School of Public Health to provide COVID-19 testing to players and staff inside the bubble. The tests were the SalivaDirect developed at Yale, an RNA polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the same as used by the 2020 NBA Bubble.[24] The university was to run a quality improvement study during the season, using paired saliva and nasal samples, which can provide two concurrent results.[25]

On December 2, 2020, the league released its logo for the bubble tournament featuring six snowflakes around its edges to represent the league's six teams. The logo was painted on the center ice of Herb Brooks Arena, marking the first time in league history that games were played on an ice surface specifically marked for the league.[26] While the stands were empty of live spectators during games due to the nature of a COVID-19 bubble, the league followed other leagues in offering fans the chance to appear in the arena during games in the form of fan cutouts. A number of teams from other leagues, such as the NWSL, the WNBA, the NHL, and the National Premier Soccer League, purchased cutouts of their players. Some teams plan to have their athletes autograph the cutouts after the end of the bubble season in order to auction them to raise funds for youth girls' hockey.[27]

In January 2021, former Buffalo Beauts' goaltender Mariah Fujimagari was named as the emergency back-up goaltender for all teams in the event that no goaltenders were available due to injury or positive COVID-19 tests.[28]

On January 28, the Metropolitan Riveters were forced to withdraw from the bubble after three games played after at least ten[29] members of the organization testing positive for COVID-19.[30] The league then postponed any games scheduled for January 28 and reorganized the schedule for the rest of the regular season games.[31] The Connecticut Whale forfeited their final game on February 1 and withdrew from the playoffs citing the need to protect the health and safety of their players.[32]

On February 3, as a result of more positive cases of COVID-19 across the league within the bubble, the season was suspended before the playoffs. It was not announced if the league would try to have the playoffs at a later date.[33] Following the suspension of the season, commissioner Tumminia called the bubble a "restricted access zone" in that it was modified from bubbles utilized by other leagues. All personnel within the zone had been required to provide a negative test 72 hours before arriving in Lake Placid and another test when they arrived. The league did utilize a taxi squad for teams to sign players when they had to fill a roster spot due to a positive test or injury, utilized by Buffalo, Connecticut, and Minnesota; the taxi squad players were also subject to the same testing requirements before the season started and when they arrived. The league does not know where first case of the virus occurred within the bubble, but by the time the season was suspended all teams had multiple positive tests including Boston head coach Paul Mara[29] and Minnesota head coach Jack Brodt.[34]

On March 8, 2021, the league announced that the Isobel Cup playoffs would be held on March 26–27 at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, Massachusetts.[2]

BroadcastingEdit

The league entered its second season of its broadcasting deal with Twitch for regular season games. In December 2020, the league announced an additional broadcasting deal with the NBC Sports Network for the Isobel Cup final and semifinals,[35] the first time that professional women's hockey isto be aired live on a major TV network in the United States.[36]

The broadcast team for the season was located remotely in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in the same studio used by the National Women's Soccer League during their 2020 bubble season. It consisted of Erica Ayala, Alexis Pearson, and Katie Gaus as analysts and Steve Goldstein, Josh Appel, and Josh Eastern as play-by-play announcers.[37]

OfficiatingEdit

In December 2020, the league announced that all ten officials used during the season would be women, selected in collaboration with USA Hockey.[38] Of the ten USA Hockey officials, seven had been assigned roles by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) at the 2020 senior or junior women's world championships, notably Kendall Hanley, who had served as a linesman at the 2020 IIHF World Women's U18 Championship, and Jackie Spresser, who had been due to serve as a linesman at the 2020 IIHF Women's World Championship before it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Of the other officials with international experience in 2020, Jamie Huntley-Park and Mackenzie Welter had served at the 2020 IIHF World Women's U18 Championship Division I, Sarah Buckner and Erika Greenen at 2020 IIHF World Women's U18 Championship Division II, Laura White at the 2020 IIHF Women's World Championship Division III. The other three officials are Alicia Hanrahan, Jacqueline Howard, and Amanda Tassoni.[39]

Team partnershipsEdit

In January 2021, the Toronto Six announced a partnership with the ECHL's Brampton Beast with the expectation of holding joint camps, practices, fan events, and double headers together, with Beast general manager Cary Kaplan stating that "We feel that we have a lot in common, as many people have still not appreciated or experienced both the exceptional level of hockey in the ECHL, or the equally strong fan experience that the Beast provide."[40][41] The Beast were one of many teams to opt out of the 2020–21 ECHL season and the Beast head coach, Spiro Anastas, joined the Six as an assistant in Lake Placid.[42] One month later, the Beast ceased operations entirely.[43] The Boston Pride and the Minnesota Whitecaps remained partnered with the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild, respectively.

Front office changesEdit

General managers
Off–season
Team 2019–20 GM 2020–21 GM Notes
Buffalo Beauts Mandy Cronin Nate Oliver After one year as Buffalo general manager, Cronin left to join the expansion Toronto Six. She was replaced by Nate Oliver.[44]
Connecticut Whale Bray Ketchum Amy Scheer Ketchum left the Whale to focus on her teaching career. She was replaced by former New York Liberty vice-president Amy Scheer in August 2020.[45]
Toronto Six None Mandy Cronin Cronin joined the expansion Toronto Six after leaving the Buffalo Beauts.[46]

(*) Indicates interim.

Regular seasonEdit

StandingsEdit

At the conclusion of the regular season.[47]

Team GP W L OTL PTS Pts% GF GA
Toronto Six 6 4 1 1 9 .750 21 14
Minnesota Whitecaps 4 3 1 0 6 .750 12 10
Connecticut Whale 4 2 2 0 4 .500 9 12
Boston Pride 7 3 4 0 6 .429 22 11
Buffalo Beauts 6 1 4 1 3 .250 7 24
Metropolitan Riveters 3 2 1 0 4 .667 7 4

ScheduleEdit

All games take place at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York. The regular season was originally scheduled to have each team face each other team once, followed by a seeded round-robin tournament for an additional two games per team to set the final playoff qualification. The team with the best record after seven games would be the regular season champion and top seed in the playoffs.[48]

However, after the Riveters were forced to withdraw from the season on January 28, the round-robin was changed to only the top three teams, ranked based on points percentage at the time, to set the playoff seeding between the three teams. The bottom two teams, Boston and Buffalo, played a best-of-three play-in series for the fourth seed in the playoffs.[31] Toronto then won the round-robin and the top seed in the playoffs by defeating Minnesota and Connecticut. On February 1, the Whale forfeited their final game and withdrew from the playoffs, giving Minnesota the second playoff seed, the winner of the play-in series between Boston and Buffalo the third seed, and the loser the fourth.[49] However, the originally scheduled playoffs would also be postponed, leading to the Whale taking part in the rescheduled tournament.

Regular season schedule
Date Visitor Score Home OT Notes
January 23 Toronto 0–3 Metropolitan
Boston 1–2 Minnesota
Connecticut 2–1 Buffalo SO
January 24 Minnesota 6–5 Toronto SO
Metropolitan 4–3 Connecticut
Buffalo 1–5 Boston
January 26 Minnesota 1–0 Metropolitan
Toronto 2–1 Boston
January 27 Boston 1–4 Connecticut
Buffalo 2–4 Toronto This game was originally scheduled to be between the Riveters and Beauts, but the league replaced the Riveters with the Six due to the NWHL's medical protocols.[50] Buffalo was originally scheduled to play Toronto on January 28.
January 28 Buffalo Metropolitan This game was originally scheduled to be between the Six and Beauts; the match-up was swapped with the Beauts' game the previous day. However, the game was cancelled when the Riveters were forced to withdraw from the season entirely due to positive cases of COVID-19.
Connecticut Minnesota Game was postponed following the Riveters' withdrawal from the season.
Adjusted end of season schedule
January 30 #5 Buffalo 2–1 #4 Boston Game 1
#3 Toronto 4–3 #1 Minnesota
January 31 #5 Buffalo 0–6 #4 Boston Game 2
#3 Toronto 6–0 #2 Connecticut
February 1 #2 Connecticut #1 Minnesota Connecticut forfeited the game and withdrew from the playoffs.
#5 Buffalo 1–7 #4 Boston Game 3

PlayoffsEdit

In the original schedule, following the regular season and round-robin, the four teams remaining teams would move on to a single elimination playoff for the Isobel Cup held on February 4 and 5.[48] Due to schedule changes and teams withdrawing, seeding was determined by Toronto's and Minnesota's finish in the end-of-season round-robin after Connecticut withdrew and the winner of the Boston/Buffalo series to face Minnesota and the loser to face Toronto. The playoffs in Lake Placid were postponed on February 3 due to new positive cases of COVID-19.[33]

The league then scheduled the Isobel Cup playoffs to be held at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, Massachusetts, for the last weekend in March. Due to the postponement, Connecticut was re-entered into the playoff to face Minnesota, the team they would have faced regardless of seeding had the Whale not withdrawn from Lake Placid before the final game.[2]

Semifinal game
March 26
Isobel Cup Championship
March 27
      
1 Toronto 2
4 Boston 6
4 Boston 4
2 Minnesota 3
2 Minnesota 7
3 Connecticut 0

DraftEdit

The 2020 NWHL Draft resulted in Sammy Davis being selected first overall by the Boston Pride. Additionally, Autumn MacDougall, a skater for the University of Alberta Pandas women's ice hockey program, became the first player in Canada's USports women's ice hockey to be selected in an NWHL Draft.[citation needed]

MilestonesEdit

TeamEdit

  • On January 23, the Toronto Six expansion team played their first game, a 0–3 loss to the Metropolitan Riveters.
  • On January 24, Lindsay Eastwood scored the first goal in Toronto Six history in a shootout loss to the Whitecaps.
  • On January 26, the Toronto Six earned their first win in a 2–1 victory over the Boston Pride.
  • On January 31, Toronto clinched the top seed in the playoffs by defeating both Minnesota and Connecticut in the revised round-robin tournament to finish the regular season.[51]

PlayersEdit

Awards and honorsEdit

NWHL Foundation Award WinnersEdit

  • Boston: Mallory Souliotis[56]
  • Buffalo: Carly Jackson[56]
  • Connecticut: Grace Kleinbach[56]
  • Metropolitan: Saroya Tinker[56]
  • Minnesota: Amanda Leveille[56]
  • Toronto: Mikyla Grant-Mentis[56]

Fans' Three StarsEdit

  • Mallory Souliotis, Boston Pride[56]
  • Carly Jackson, Buffalo Beauts[56]
  • Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Toronto Six[56]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Transcript: NWHL media availability on the suspension of the 2021 season". SB Nation. February 3, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c "NWHL TO AWARD ISOBEL CUP IN MARCH 2021". NWHL. March 8, 2021.
  3. ^ "NWHL adding first Canadian team, in Toronto". ESPN. April 22, 2020.
  4. ^ Jay, Michelle (April 22, 2020). "New NWHL team brings a new schedule for 2020-2021 season". The Ice Garden.
  5. ^ Larkin, Matt (April 23, 2020). "Is the NWHL Expansion Enough in Quest for Unified Women's League?". Sports Illustrated.
  6. ^ "NWHL ANNOUNCES SEASON 6 TIMELINE". NWHL. July 29, 2020.
  7. ^ "N.W.H.L. Prioritizes Independent Team Ownership in New Model". The New York Times. October 12, 2020.
  8. ^ "The "A-Ha" Moment: Ksenia Selemon and the making of an NWHL jersey". The Ice Garden. December 16, 2020.
  9. ^ Larkin, Matt (December 9, 2020). "'Unless You Show up on a Box Score in Women's Hockey, it's Lost': Meghan Chayka on why Stathletes partnered with the NWL". The Hockey News.
  10. ^ "NWHL Partners with InStat Hockey, Enhancing Player Development Through Video". NWHL.zone. January 6, 2021.
  11. ^ Rodriguez, Angelica (December 22, 2020). "NWHL statement on ending racism is a tentative start". The Ice Garden.
  12. ^ "A statement from the Ice Garden". The Ice Garden. January 26, 2021.
  13. ^ "Ahmed: NWHL doesn't need Barstool to survive". TSN 1040. January 26, 2021.
  14. ^ Jhaveri, Hemal (January 26, 2021). "The NWHL has a Barstool problem, and it can no longer look away". USA Today.
  15. ^ Wyshynski, Greg (January 26, 2021). "National Women's Hockey League criticizes Barstool Sports CEO for video post". ESPN.
  16. ^ "AHL names Hayley Moore VP of hockey operations". ESPN. January 11, 2021.
  17. ^ "NWHL deal with Discover marks biggest sponsor partnership in league history". Sportsnet.ca. January 29, 2021.
  18. ^ "DICKS SPORTING GOODS BECOMES PRESENTING SPONSOR OF THE ISOBEL CUP PRESENTATION AND CUP FINAL MVP". NWHL. February 3, 2021.
  19. ^ "Behind The Bubble: How NWHL Will Pull Off Shortened Season In Lake Placid". NESN. December 22, 2020.
  20. ^ "NWHL ANNOUNCES PLAN FOR SEASON AND ISOBEL CUP PLAYOFFS AT LAKE PLACID'S 1980 RINK-HERB BROOKS ARENA". NWHL. November 25, 2020.
  21. ^ Hayden, Zoë (January 23, 2021). "Hockey and COVID Protocol In This Brave New World". The Victory Press.
  22. ^ "NWHL's New Bubble Learns From NWSL and WNBA". Sports Are From Venus. November 25, 2020.
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  25. ^ "National Women's Hockey League partners with Yale on COVID-19 testing". Yale University News. January 4, 2021.
  26. ^ "NWHL reveals Lake Placid logo". SB Nation. December 2, 2020.
  27. ^ "FC Buffalo's soccer team sending Fan Faces to support the Beauts in Lake Placid". NWHL.zone. January 12, 2021.
  28. ^ Rice, Dan (January 22, 2021). "Meet the NWHL's EBUG: Mariah Fujimagari". The Hockey Writers.
  29. ^ a b "NWHL suspends season due to COVID, remains hopeful to complete it". Sportsnet.ca. February 3, 2021.
  30. ^ "METROPOLITAN RIVETERS WITHDRAWN FROM NWHL SEASON". NWHL. January 28, 2021.
  31. ^ a b "THE CHASE FOR THE ISOBEL CUP RESUMES SATURDAY". NWHL. January 29, 2021.
  32. ^ @CTWhale_NWHL (February 3, 2021). "A statement from the Connecticut Whale" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  33. ^ a b "NWHL suspends season on eve of playoffs due to COVID-19". Sportsnet.ca. February 3, 2021.
  34. ^ "NWHL suspends season over COVID concerns; Whitecaps had reached semifinals". Minnesota Star Tribune. February 3, 2021.
  35. ^ Jay, Michelle (December 22, 2020). "NBCSN to broadcast NWHL playoff semifinal games, Isobel Cup final from Lake Placid". The Ice Garden.
  36. ^ Whyno, Stephen (December 22, 2020). "NWHL semifinals, final to air live on major cable for first time". The Boston Globe.
  37. ^ "NWHL Unveils Twitch Broadcast Plans, Announcers for 2021 NWHL Season in Lake Placid". NWHL.zone. January 22, 2021.
  38. ^ "NWHL 2021 Season to Feature an All-Female USA Hockey Officiating Staff". USA Hockey. December 23, 2020.
  39. ^ "NWHL will have all-female officiating crews in Lake Placid". The Ice Garden. December 23, 2020.
  40. ^ "Six and Beast Establish Unique Professional Hockey Alliance". Brampton Beast. January 12, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  41. ^ Ventresca, Aldo (January 14, 2021). "Toronto Six announces strategic partnerships". She Scores. Archived from the original on January 14, 2021. Retrieved January 13, 2021.
  42. ^ "BEAST HEAD COACH ANASTAS GIVEN OPPORTUNITY TO PARTICIPATE IN LAKE PLACID BUBBLE". Brampton Beast. January 19, 2021.
  43. ^ "BRAMPTON BEAST A CASUALTY OF COVID-19". Brampton Beast. February 18, 2021.
  44. ^ "Oliver Named GM of the Buffalo Beauts". thehockeywriters.com. May 14, 2020. Retrieved May 31, 2020.
  45. ^ "Whale announce Amy Scheer as new General Manager". SB Nation. August 20, 2020.
  46. ^ "Mandy Cronin named General Manager of Toronto NWHL team". MSN. May 12, 2020.
  47. ^ "NWHL standings". NWHL. Retrieved January 31, 2021.
  48. ^ a b "REGULAR SEASON AND ISOBEL CUP PLAYOFFS SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED FOR 2021 NWHL SEASON IN LAKE PLACID". NWHL. January 14, 2021.
  49. ^ @NWHL (February 2, 2021). "The NWHL has accepted the decision of the Connecticut Whale to forfeit their game scheduled for earlier tonight against Minnesota and to withdraw from the tournament" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
  50. ^ "BUFFALO'S JACKSON SHINES, TORONTO KEEPS ROLLING". NWHL. January 27, 2021.
  51. ^ "Toronto Six romp past Connecticut to clinch top seed in Isobel Cup group". CBC.ca. January 31, 2021.
  52. ^ "Jillian Dempsey gives 100 percent, reaches milestone in Boston Pride victory over Buffalo". The Boston Globe. January 25, 2021.
  53. ^ "Elite Prospects - NWHL (W) Stats All-time totals". www.eliteprospects.com. Retrieved 2021-03-23.
  54. ^ "Toronto's Mikyla Grant-Mentis named MVP at 2021 NWHL Awards". sportsnet.ca. April 28, 2021. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  55. ^ "Toronto Six forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis named National Women's Hockey League MVP". thestar.com. April 28, 2021. Retrieved April 29, 2021.
  56. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Paul Krotz (April 28, 2021). "NWHL ANNOUNCES 2021 AWARD RECIPIENTS". NWHL. Retrieved April 29, 2021.

External linksEdit