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Practice a welcome return to normality for Six players

The newest NWHL team has finally taken to the ice together.

Mikayla Grant-Mentis at practice.
Alyssa Turner/NWHL

The NWHL season is almost six months away.

That’s not going to stop the, well, Six.

The league’s newest club has been practicing in Toronto, getting their legs under them as they undergo the transformation from offseason expansion darlings to a tangible on-ice product.

Earlier this summer, some of the Six players gathered for the first time, and they’ve continued to prepare for their first season in the NWHL.

It’s been a refreshing change of pace.

“I haven’t stopped smiling,” said Taylor Woods. “The first day all I wanted to do was skate a lot of laps. The feeling of blades on your feet, being on ice, meeting new teammates. It’s been enjoyable.”

The Six upper management set up the practices, which have become a haven for the players preparing for their first ever season as a team.

That’s just making the anticipation all the more thrilling.

“It’s like watching grass grow,” said Woods. “We start in January but being on the ice it feels like we start in a few weeks. The anticipation is building up, it keeps me motivated we have something to work for.”

Most players haven’t been on the ice for quite a while. Woods has skated here and there since the pandemic started, but some haven’t skated at all.

“The first time I got on the ice was rough,” said Mikayla Grant-Mentis. “It wasn’t the easiest skate I’ve had in my life. It was a hard transition, even if you’re working out it doesn’t always translate to on-ice conditioning. I was out of breath from just stick-handling drills.”

Taylor Woods at practice.
Alyssa Turner/NWHL

Getting their skates under them is one component for the players, but building some early chemistry is also important for a new team off to a delayed start. At least the other five teams have some level of experience playing together, while for the Six, it’s starting at square one.

“It’s really important to play together and get chemistry,” said Grant-Mentis. “I can see it happening, I can see it building as more and more players are there.”

The NWHL has reached over 100 signings leading up to their sixth season, and Toronto already looks like a contender with a mix of league veterans and women’s hockey familiar faces as a whole. That has made the informal environment more competitive than usual offseason skates.

“There’s an edge to practice,” said Woods. “It’s inching there. We’re on the ice, it’s like, come on let’s just play a game. But, slowly but surely.”

Offseason skates are an essential part of preparing for any season, even one delayed by Covid-19 and with uncertainty abound. No one knows what a return to play for the NWHL will fully look like, or if the Six will debut in front of the fans of Toronto.

One thing is for certain, though; that team will be ready to take the ice, no matter what.

“We hadn’t met each other yet, and now we get to be on the ice together,” said Grant-Mentis. “It’s been great.”