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2021 NWHL Season Preview: The Toronto Six

Can a ragtag team of Canadian rookies, Emily Fluke, and Shiann Darkangelo win the Isobel Cup? Stranger things have happened!

Alyssa Turner/NWHL

When the condensed NWHL season begins in Lake Placid, they’ll have a shiny new team taking part. The Toronto Six joined the league via expansion in April 2020 and they’ve endeared themselves to fans ever since. Will they be able to swoop in and win the Isobel Cup in their inaugural season, or do they still have some growing pains to work through?

Five Factors

  • Beginner’s Luck | The Toronto Six are the new kids in town. We don’t really know what to expect from them considering they haven’t even played their first game yet. We know that they’ve been practicing at their home rink in Toronto, but the first time this team hits the ice to play a meaningful game, it’s going to be in Lake Placid. Only four players on the roster have played in the NWHL (Shiann Darkangelo, Emily Fluke, Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Emma Greco). Of those, only Darkangelo and Fluke have played full seasons. Finding the right balance of youth and experience has been important in building Toronto’s roster. Some players are coming from Europe, others from the PWHPA, and many are recent graduates out of Canadian and American universities. Only time will tell if a ragtag bunch of NWHL rookies — and Fluke — can snatch the Isobel Cup from the reigning champion Minnesota Whitecaps or the favorite Boston Pride.
  • Why Can’t We Be Friends? | Speaking of Boston, the Six and the Pride haven’t even played each other and they already have beef. Fluke played for Boston last season and scored 9 goals and 27 points in 23 games (she previously played two seasons with the Connecticut Whale and served as their captain in 2018–19). Expect things between the Six and Pride to get a bit testy on the ice. Toronto and Boston have truly proved that some cities just don’t get along.
  • Do it for Digit | As anyone who’s seen Miracle knows, one of the most important stats going into a hockey tournament in Lake Placid is “inspirational speeches/60” — and Toronto Six head coach Digit Murphy has no shortage of motivating speeches to dish out to her team. All you have to do is listen to Murphy talk for a couple of minutes and you’ll be ready to run through a wall for her. Her illustrious coaching career in women’s hockey includes 20 years at Brown University and a stint with the national team in China. Murphy brought a winning attitude to Toronto; hopefully she has it packed and ready to go for Lake Placid.
  • Shot in the Dark(angelo) | The Toronto Six have announced the first captains in team history. Darkangelo will be wearing the C in Lake Placid, with Greco and Emma Woods wearing the As. Darkangelo has a wealth of experience playing in North America (for the Beauts, Whale, and CWHL’s Toronto Furies), as well as one season overseas with Kunlun Red Star — where she was coached by Digit Murphy. She’s a dynamic goal scorer with a wicked one-timer that’s likely to give goalies some trouble in the bubble.
  • Queens of the Power Play | Any team that takes a penalty against the Six is going to be in trouble (so watch out, Madison Packer). The Six signed several power play specialists, including Kristen Barbara and Taytum Clairmont. Barbara is an ideal quarterback for any team’s power play, and Clairmont has great execution in front of the net. Both played in the OUA, the conference that assistant coach Lisa Haley’s Ryerson Rams play in. The familiarity might be an asset when it comes to setting up special teams. Expect a lot of the Six’s goals to come while the other team is in the box.

Why the Toronto Six Can Win It All

Toronto has become the go-to destination for many Canadian women who want to go pro after university. This is good news for the Six because it means their roster is deep and chock full of skill, particularly at the forward position.

It’s going to take a little bit of beginner’s luck to win it all, but I truly wouldn’t put anything past this team. The condensed schedule might actually be an asset for the newest NWHL team. Good teams are more likely to make mistakes on such a short schedule, and the consequences of those mistakes are way more severe when each team only plays five times. If the Six can hit the ice running, they just might be able to surprise a few teams.

We know for sure that the Six have all the pieces that a team needs to succeed. They have skill up and down the lineup, solid goaltending, and a coach who knows how to win. Having the puzzle pieces isn’t going to be the challenge for the Six, it’s going to be about putting them in the right place at the right time.

Prediction

It’s not a stretch to say the Six will make the semifinals. On paper, they have the talent to take a run at the Cup, but we don’t know what they’re going to be like on the ice. Every team in the NWHL has an identity, and Toronto still has to find theirs.

Could the season be a bust? Maybe. Could the Six win it all in their inaugural season? Also maybe. They’re the mystery box team of the NWHL: we don’t know exactly what we’ve got until we open it. Most of these players haven’t played together before, and if they have a fatal flaw, that’s most likely what it will be. But even so, the Toronto Six are going to be a fun team to watch.

I have high hopes for the Six this season, and you should too — it’s fun to cheer for the expansion team. If they win it’s a great story, and if they finish last, well, it’s only their first season and they’ll be better next year.