The NWHL plans to hold its regular season and the 2021 Isobel Cup Playoffs in Lake Placid, New York.
That’s right, the NWHL is going into a bubble. Or, at least, that’s the plan right now.
The tournament is presented in partnership with the New York State Olympic Regional Department Authority (ORDA). Per the league’s release: “The goal of the NWHL bubble season is to play in a protective environment that prioritizes the health and safety of the players, staff, and surrounding community.”
The bubble will last two weeks, between Jan. 23 and Feb. 5 and will comprise of five regular season games for each of the league’s six teams to determine which four teams will qualify for the Isobel Cup Semifinals as well as the seedings. As expected, the semifinals will comprise of a traditional 1st seed vs. 4th seed and 2nd seed vs. 3rd seed format. All weekday games are expected to take place at night to allow for players to work during the day.
Despite the abbreviated schedule, all players who signed contracts will be paid their full salary for the upcoming season. Players are being given the option to opt-out — as we have seen in other professional sports leagues over the last several months — and still be paid in full. According to the league’s release, 95 percent of the 126 players to sign contracts have committed to playing in the bubble. That is, roughly speaking, 119 players across six teams.
The National Women’s Hockey League today announced a plan to play the upcoming season and 2021 Isobel Cup Playoffs at the 1980 Rink-Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, NY— NWHL (@NWHL) November 25, 2020
PRESS RELEASE: https://t.co/EWlz31m8wY pic.twitter.com/QyCKGCKQ0K
“The NWHL is excited to provide hockey fans a fast-paced schedule of thrilling games on the road to the Isobel Cup,” NWHL Interim Commissioner Tyler Tumminia stated in the league’s release. “The continued challenges brought by the pandemic resulted in a mandate for our league, players and partners to collaborate on creating a controlled environment protecting the health of everyone involved. At a time of hyper-growth for girls’ and women’s hockey, we see this season as a celebration of the sport. This will be a historic moment as the hallowed arena that was the site of the ‘Miracle on Ice’ in 1980 hosts its first women’s professional championship. It is a proud moment for the NWHL, the players, and all hockey fans.”
Yale Pathology labs will conduct regular COVID-19 tests and all six teams will be arriving separately. All in attendance will follow strict protocols established by infectious disease doctors from NYU Langone Health — a partner of the NWHL.
Teams throughout the league have been conducting voluntary workouts since October and began official practices in September. As of this moment, five of the NWHL’s teams have at least 20 players signed. Toronto, the league’s newest franchise, has 17 players under contract. It will be worth keeping an eye on the Six to see if they make any further additions to their roster.
Today’s announcement comes in the wake of successful bubbles executed by both the NWSL and the WNBA. The official schedule and other key dates are expected to be at announced at a later date, but no fans will be in attendance for the regular season or the playoffs. It’s expected all of the games will be streamed live and free on Twitch, which partnered with the NWHL last year.
Of course, a lot can change between now and January. The NWHL’s plan is likely written in pencil because of the nature of the pandemic. But, this is definitely a start. And it’s a start with players getting compensated in full for a proposed five-game regular season and a two-game playoff. Hopefully, that part of the plan will remain unchanged if the league needs to adapt or change its plan in the future.
It’s clear that Tumminia has been working hard on piecing this together and the fact that 95 percent of the league’s players are committed to the plan offers real hope that we could have NWHL hockey with all six teams in the near future. For now, the plan is for the Isobel Cup Final to be played on Friday, Feb. 5.