There will be a lot of firsts for the NWHL today. The first game of the 2021 NWHL season in Lake Placid. The first tripleheader. The first game in the history of the Toronto Six franchise. It’s been almost a year since we’ve had professional women’s hockey in North America. The last time we saw NWHL action was the 2020 Isobel Cup Semifinals back in March of 2020. It’s been 321 days since then.
Now, finally, NWHL hockey is back.
We could connect the dots and go over how we got from there to here but, instead, let’s talk hockey.
It’s important to remember that there have been no tune-up preseason games for these teams. Don’t be surprised if we see a lot of rust on the ice this first weekend. After all, training and preparing for this season hasn’t exactly been easy for these athletes. With that being said, this is the beginning of a two-week sprint. The teams that hit the ground running today will put themselves in a good position to build momentum and start carving a path to the postseason.
There’s a lot to look out for today. We’re here to get you started.
1 p.m. ET | Toronto Six vs. Metropolitan Riveters
The big storyline here, other than the fact that this will be our first look at the Toronto Six, is the Kelly Babstock trade. The Riveters gave up their first round pick in the 2021 Draft and their second round pick in the 2022 Draft to acquire Babstock, who signed with the Six on May 2, 2020.
A ton of players will be making their NWHL debuts in this one, including several CWHL alumnae and highly anticipated Riveters rookie defenders Saroya Tinker and Bridgette Prentiss. If you’re looking for something to keep a close eye on, other than Babstock, we could learn a lot about both teams from who we see in their goal creases.
Both teams could be going with a true tandem or with whichever goalie gets into a groove. We’re about to see the NWHL debut of either Elaine Chuli or Sam Ridgewell for the Six and, potentially, the debut of Tera Hofmann for the Riveters. So who gets the nod to stand between the pipes this afternoon? We’re about to find out.
4 p.m. | Boston Pride vs. Minnesota Whitecaps
We all know this is a matchup between the two teams who were slated to compete in the 2020 Isobel Cup Final that was postponed and then ultimately canceled because of COVID. But there’s no hardware on the line. This is just one more regular season matchup between two teams that are looking to prove they are the best in the league. That’s more than enough to make this interesting.
Honestly, who can say no to another showdown between Lovisa Selander and Amanda Leveille? Leveille holds every career goaltending record of note, and Selander pretty much holds every single-season goaltending record of note. They’re All-Stars. They’re two of the best in the world. Let’s do this.
7 p.m. | Connecticut Whale vs. Buffalo Beauts
If you’re looking for one game to put under a microscope today, it should be this one. Even though it’s just one game, we could learn a lot about both Buffalo and Connecticut from tonight’s game.
The Whale and Beauts were last and second-to-last in the standings at the end of the regular season last year, with records of 2–20–2 and 8–15–1, respectively. Both teams were dealt big blows just before Lake Placid with the news of Melissa Samoskevich, Taylor Accursi, and Lisa Chesson all opting out, but there is still a lot to be optimistic about for both clubs.
The Beauts’ strong rookie class has been largely overlooked, and this team still has Marie-Jo Pelletier, Brooke Stacey, and what looks to be a stronger group of goalies. They look deeper than they were a year ago, particularly on the blue line. Keep an eye on former Whale forward Kayla Meneghin who was quietly one of the most productive forwards in the league last year on a game-to-game basis.
The Whale’s core from last year, with the exception of Jordan Brickner — who missed most of last season with an injury — has returned, and they are complemented by a fascinating class of rookies and Alyssa Wohlfeiler, who played with Boston last year. On paper, this Whale squad shouldn’t struggle to move the puck as much as they did last year, and there looks to be a lot more potential offense in the lineup. But hockey is played on ice. So we’ll see what happens.
That’s three consecutive hockey games, which should get the Lake Placid bubble season started off on the right foot. Keep an eye out for our recaps of tonight’s games and more analysis of the 2021 NWHL season.