We’re now a little under two months away from the start of the 2020-21 NWHL season and the Toronto Six have 18 players under contract. Since trading Kelly Babstock to the Metropolitan Riveters on Oct. 15 the Six were eerily quiet before making waves with the signing of two-time All-Star Emily Fluke on Dec. 14. Before Fluke signed, the most recent addition was forward Mackenzie MacNeil, who signed on July 22. That was four months ago.
On paper, the Six have plenty of talent but they feel a bit like a skeleton crew, especially on the blue line. Toronto has 12 forwards, two goaltenders, and four defenders under contract. Naturally, one or two of those forwards could move back to the blue line but that’s hardly an ideal solution. That approach seems especially perilous heading into a 14-day marathon in a sport where injuries are frequent if not inevitable.
There’s also the potential of a player (or players) having to be quarantined and deemed ineligible as a result of COVID-19 testing. Starting to get the picture? The Six need to be a bigger number before Jan. 25 arrives.
Ontario has more women’s hockey players than any other state or province in North America but the vast majority of the players who played in the CWHL with the Brampton Thunder and Toronto Furies have declared for the PWHPA. One way or another, the PWHPA’s presence in Ontario has been a factor in general manager Mandy Cronin’s efforts to build an NWHL roster in Toronto. But that hasn’t stopped Cronin from signing 11 natives of the Six’s home province.
Interestingly enough, the NWHL’s short schedule could make playing pro hockey a reality for some players who couldn’t commit to a full season. In Fluke’s case, relocating to Toronto for a standard season might have been out of the question but two weeks in Lake Placid was do-able. Chances are, it will be do-able for other players as well. There
One player that comes to mind is St. Lawrence University alumna Brooke Webster, who played with the Six’s Emma Woods on the 2017-18 Vanke Rays. The same could be said of Clarkson standout Cayley Mercer, who spent two seasons in China in the CWHL. There’s also former NWHL and CWHLer Rebecca Vint, who is currently the Director of Hockey Operations for a school in Ontario.
Are any of the above players open to the idea of playing two weeks of professional hockey? Cronin and the Six won’t have the answer to that question until they reach out to them. But the focus, for the moment, needs to be on adding to the blue line.
There are several potential targets out there, including defenders who are currently playing in Europe like Morgan Kelly (Göteborg), Abby Cook (Djurgården), and Sarah Lecavalier (Malmö). Asking a player to pull up her roots mid-season to return home is definitely asking a lot, but the Six do have some exceptional recruiters at the helm in Digit Murphy and Cronin.
Another talent pool that Toronto should definitely be looking into is USports alumnae.
Defenders like Taylor Davison of York University, Alexandra Woods of St. Thomas University, and Gabrielle Smyth of the University of Guelph are all potential targets. But those are just three of the Ontario-natives who graduated last year. So, the names mentioned above are just the tip of the iceberg. Remember, we’ve seen players from USports, DIII, the ACHA, and Europe all find success in the NWHL.
Obviously, there’s a huge difference between doing some research after pulling some names from EliteProspects.com and actually scouting and recruiting and players. But here’s the thing: we all know that the Six need more players.
The question now is who they will be and when they’ll join the team. Something tells me the Six and every other NWHL team wants to have as many practices as a full team as possible before going into the bubble and preparing for the spring that will be the 2020-21 season. Will other signings follow the addition of Fluke? We’ll soon find out. The clock is ticking.