After last week’s announcement that the NWHL plans on playing the 2020-21 season in a single, centralized location in Lake Placid, we sat down with a player from each of the league’s six teams to get their thoughts on how season six is shaping up.
The Ice Garden (TIG): When the NWSL became the first professional league to pull off a successful bubble without any positive tests, were you watching that action unfold? What were you thinking while watching female professional athletes perform in relative safety at a centralized location?
Audra Richards (Whitecaps): I thought it was really awesome. I never thought I would see anything like that, obviously, with a bubble, I guess. I didn’t know what to expect when people — not just women, but men too — were doing a bubble. I wasn’t sure what it was going to entail but it was pretty impressive that a women’s league could do something so special.
Rebecca Morse (Riveters): I’m a Sky Blue fan, so I was super excited when they had the [Challenge Cup] out in Utah. I think obviously being not a sister league, but another professional league that we look up to a lot, so to see them pull that off successfully, and how professional they were about it, responsible in terms of keeping the players safe and all that, just putting on a great product. I’m sure it’s difficult.
Carly Jackson (Beauts): I actually followed it pretty closely! I wasn’t really aware of it and who the NWSL was until recently, but when I saw they pulled off the bubble, I was impressed. I also got excited for our league too because we’re also professional women’s athletes, especially with COVID and the season being kind of unsure, I think that [the NWSL bubble] opened a door. One, for the WNBA, but also for us to be like, “Okay this is a real thing and this could really work,” and you know, they’re able to do it, so why can’t we? So it was definitely exciting to watch it unfold but I was also just super happy for them.
Mallory Souliotis (Pride): I definitely followed along with the NWSL season, especially with their bubble. When that happened, they were one of the only sports doing something, so seeing how not only successful league was outside of it being a bubble, but just seeing the content and the like, social media surrounding that league and everyone in it was pretty awesome.
Mikyla Grant-Mentis (Six): I thought it was really cool that they were able to pull it off. I know even with very little exposure, the percentage of people watching the games went way up, so that was really cool to see.
Grace Klienbach (Whale): I would have loved to watch, but I work in the medical field so during all of this I’ve still been working full-time so I wasn’t able to watch, unfortunately. But it’s great to see that a women’s league was the first ones to do this, and it’s great for pro women’s sports. It’s great that they set the standard, and I’m hoping we can follow suit.
TIG: What were your initial thoughts when playing an NWHL season in a bubble was first proposed?
Richards (Whitecaps): I was kind of sad because obviously I wanted to play a regular season, but we’re doing what we can to be as normal as possible. I was just excited that we get to play games. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get to play a regular season, but as long as we get to play some games, I’m cool with that.
Morse (Riveters): So, being totally transparent. Initially, my reaction was...obviously as an athlete, you want to be playing as long as possible. So at first I kind of had to absorb that information in particular and really weigh the pros and cons. I think, at first I was obviously thrilled about potential of a bubble but in terms of that versus playing a longer season, just as a competitor, separate from having my safety hat on, you’d always prefer to have a longer season. That being said after really, truly thinking about it, and learning where we’d be where we’d be playing, that changed really quick. As athletes I think we’ve just learned that it’s hard to separate, quite honestly, just wanting to compete versus really understanding that any decisions that are made are for your safety. Ultimately, that’s what’s most important because nobody can play hockey if they’re not healthy.
Jackson (Beauts): Honestly, when I heard the news, I was pretty excited. I knew that it was going to be difficult for a lot of people, due to second jobs, third jobs, things like that. So, of course there’s that difficulty, but I was mostly just excited for the opportunity of women’s hockey, and there’s not a lot of sports going on right now. I think that this is going to be just a huge opportunity for women’s hockey to be really put on the map, in terms of people who aren’t aware that it even exists, but also for the fans who have been following for so long to see the game played on such an awesome stage. I’m so excited to play. I’m really great grateful for the people that were able to put this together and came up with the idea and the people that are working every day to make this happen.
Souliotis (Pride): I was interested and intrigued at the idea. I was wondering how that would work, since I know not only me, but many athletes across each of the teams, have important jobs that have been on-site during during this pandemic and haven’t been remote. My big concern was how that would be handled and if we would be able to work remotely, or how the league would be handling that. But obviously it was very exciting to even think that that might be an option, just, financially, to have that as an option and now that it’s really going to happen. It’s pretty exciting to see that investment not only in women’s sports, but in women’s hockey and then in the NWHL itself. It’s really awesome to be a part of and it’s going to be an absolutely incredible few weeks.
Grant-Mentis (Six): Honestly, I was really excited, mainly because I didn’t know how we were going to cross the border [for a regular season], being the only Canadian team. I was personally really excited because now we know that we will be able to play against these teams and have two weeks of good competition instead of having no idea if we were even going to be able to play at all this year.
Klienbach (Whale): I would love to have our normal regular season and have things go back to normal, but at the same time, it’s pretty exciting. I’ve never played a style of hockey like this where we’re so secluded in a bubble, so I think it’s a very exciting idea. Like I said before, I would love to have a regular season, but it’s a very cool concept being able to play two weeks straight, just nothing but hockey.
TIG: How do you think the intensity of the games will be affected by this season’s shortened format?
Richards (Whitecaps): I think it’ll be a little bit different, just because we’re not building those rivalries during a regular season. During a regular season we’re playing teams sometimes two weekends in a row and that kind of amps up the intensity level and competitive level, which is the fun part, but I think with all of us kind of being in the same area, we’re going to have that like intense type of situation because we’re going to be all around each other. We’re going to be wanting to be the ones to win the Cup.
Morse (Riveters): We’re going to kind of be thrown right into it, after not playing games at least since March. So obviously there’s gonna be a lot of excitement there to get back into that game situation. I’m sure it’ll be a little rough early on, you know. And it’s going to be two weeks of like, a tournament, and I think back to growing up playing hockey, and there’s just another intensity level, it’s basically like playoff hockey.
Jackson (Beauts): It’s just such a different year in terms of competition level. I think it’s going to be really intense, and I think the two weeks are just going to fly by. But I’m just so excited; it’s gonna be a super fast, super fun, and I definitely think emotional few weeks there. It’s going to be a lot of competitiveness and a lot of emotion for sure, because we’re all just itching to be there.
Souliotis (Pride): I’m not sure. I think it’ll be really intense because obviously we won’t have been able to fit in that many games as we’ve had in previous seasons. We’re gonna have to come out right out of the gate, you know, going hard because we’re not going to have that many games to kind of make-up if we don’t play well one game. So, I think it’ll be really intense and it might be tough at first to kind of get into game mode and get into that feel and intensity.
Grant-Mentis (Six): I think it’s going to be even better, just because we’ll all be working towards the Isobel Cup and it’s not like [in college] where we had like five or six months of competition where it’s like, “Okay, we don’t really have to try hard this game. We can have a bad game,” but in this situation, every game has to be your best. If you lose one, it could pretty much get you kicked out of playoffs.
Klienbach (Whale): I think it makes it more intense because I think we know that there’s no second chance, no third or fourth opportunity to play these teams. It’s just one round robin and then right into it. So I think the intensity almost increases because of the fact that we’re only playing the teams once before playoffs and I think that makes it to where we all know we have to give absolutely everything every single time you step out there because there is no redemption, there is no second chance.
TIG: Lake Placid and Herb Brooks Arena are obviously both filled with so much history as the site of the 1980 Miracle on Ice. What will it be like to skate in such a hallowed building?
Richards (Whitecaps): I’m really excited about it. I’m not quite excited about the Olympic-sized ice because it’s so much bigger and it’s such a different game, but the history in that arena is unbelievable. I’m super super excited to see what that entails and I feel like I’m gonna walk into the rink and be like, “Whoa, this is like, Miracle...like that happened right here.”
Morse (Riveters): I get chills any time I’m there, and that’s partly because I played my high school hockey there. I went to National Sports Academy, so Lake Placid is a very special place to me. When I was around eight years old, my brother was playing — he was a mite, he was around eight years old — and he was playing a tournament in Lake Placid, and we made a family trip out of it. That was my first time there. I had so much fun. We went to Whiteface [Mountain], we went bobsledding, we went tubing, we went dogsledding. We hit every single winter attraction Lake Placid has to offer, and I loved it so much. At that young age, I told my dad, “I want to live here.” So it’s pretty much a dream come true.
Jackson (Beauts): I think it would be difficult for anybody who knows the story not to feel special. I mean, obviously the Miracle on Ice was a big moment for the Americans, but even being Canadian, I still think about it and I get chills. It’s always been a dream of mine just to see the rink, let alone play one of my first professional games on that on that ice surface, so I couldn’t be more excited.
Souliotis (Pride): It’s gonna be pretty incredible. Growing up, I never got to skate on the 1980 rink, but my brother played with his team there and I got to since I was obviously dragged along as a little sister. To be able not only to go back there, but then skate on that rink where such an iconic moment in hockey and U.S. history took place...it’s going to give me some butterflies, I think, and maybe some goosebumps.
Grant-Mentis (Six): It’s not really apart of Canadian history, although both of my brothers have played there and said it’s the best rink they’ve ever been to for hockey tournaments. I’m pretty excited just to even get to go to Lake Placid and play, even if it’s just one game, but to spend two weeks there...I feel like the vibe is just going to be really sick.
Klienbach (Whale): I actually skated there once before when I was 15 or 16, but I think I was too young to really appreciate it. It’s an amazing, amazing place for us to hold this bubble. It’s just one of those things where a lot of hockey history has happened there, and I love that we’re adding to the history to that location by being the first ever women’s bubble there.
TIG: What changes are you looking forward to within the bubble, and what parts of a traditional season will you miss?
Richards (Whitecaps): Oh, that’s a loaded question. I’m gonna miss the competitiveness, and kind of always being at the rink for a full season, versus once we’re done with the bubble, the season’s over and we’re not going to be with each other, I guess. And like, hockey season’s my favorite season because I’m with my friends for six months, and getting to be with them, that’s like that’s my favorite part.
Morse (Riveters): The number one thing I’ll miss this season is the fans. The league doesn’t exist under normal circumstances without them. The Riveters have some of the best fans in all of sports. I know that they’ll be cheering us on virtually, but I’m really going to miss the face-to-face interactions — signing autographs and engaging with fans after games is one of my favorite parts of being a professional athlete. I’ve formed so many new, valuable relationships over the last five seasons with people who support the league and our team. I’m grateful that I’ve had the ability to get to know many fans and young players on a personal level. These people have become part of my hockey family. It won’t be the same without them, but I’ll absolutely be thinking of them every time I step on the ice in the bubble. This bubble season is for the fans just as much as it is for us. I think that everyone could use some NWHL action back in their lives after all we’ve gone through as a society this year. I’m looking forward to delivering a great product on the ice for them to enjoy at home, while still making them feel like they’re part of the experience.
Jackson (Beauts): I’m looking forward to the competitiveness. I think professional hockey is just going to be one more step up and you know it’s going to be faster, it’s going to be smarter, so I’m just excited to see everybody on my own team and compete with everybody. Also just be able to be that part of women making history is going to be something that’s really special to me and something I think that I’ll share with my kids one day and you know it’s just, it’s always been a dream so to be able to just even imagine myself playing at the Herb Brooks Arena, competing with the Beauts for the Isobel Cup...it gives me chills.
Souliotis (Pride): I’m really looking forward to spending a lot more time with the team outside of the rink, since we’ll all be in a hotel for more than one night, versus previous years. I think we’ll all be pretty busy with outside work or school or whatever but I think spending that extra team bonding and building that team chemistry will be really awesome. I think one thing I miss the most is some of our road trips and our flights, those are always an absolute blast with the team and hanging out with everyone and seeing people kind of outside their element.
Grant-Mentis (Six): What I’m most looking forward to is just the opportunity to even get to do a bubble, because I feel like most people would think women’s hockey just doesn’t have the money or the opportunity to do stuff like this. The fact that the league was able to come together and figure this out with the state of New York and everything is kind of a huge deal.
Klienbach (Whale): I think first, I’ll miss the amount of play in a normal season. When we originally switched from 16 games in a season [to 24], that was really exciting for me. I’ve always been that way. I love playing games, so the more the merrier for me. But I’m definitely excited for just having that timeframe where I can devote a full two weeks to hockey. The other thing I would say that’s going to be hard is...I’ll definitely miss the fans and the support we get from all the loyal fans in Connecticut. It’s definitely going to be hard going to arena and knowing that you’re not going to see all of your usual fans, all the little kids in the stands cheering you on with their posters. I think I’m going to definitely miss that the most.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.