TIG Roundtable: Our favorite moments of 2021
Looking back at 2021 in women’s hockey
Casey Bryant: I remember how excited I was to watch the Lake Placid “Bubble” season back in January for the then-NWHL (now PHF). I settled in at home with my Labrador beside me (after having to bribe him with coldcuts) and enjoyed what was, to that point, the best looking and sounding games the league had ever played. Multiple camera angles, professional and informed broadcasters, intricate replays, the presentation with the lights, the cardboard cutouts and the Zamboni content...
Remember how cool and revolutionary that all was at the time?
That season had a ton of problems obviously, but it was that monumental step that provided a jumping-off point for where the league is now: on ESPN+ and TSN. Considering the league had been struggling for five years with less-than-perfect Youtube streams, shooting in ill-lit rinks or through protective netting, it was like being warped into the 21st-century. Not to mention the fact that not every women’s hockey event is treated with such care on the production side- lest we forget the doorbell cam of the U18 Women’s Worlds? The progression from effective Twitch streams to the Isobel Cup Playoffs on NBCSN to where the league is now has been actually quite remarkable.
So maybe it’s just the broadcast-tech nerd in me, but that first day of games in Lake Placid will always hold a special place in my heart. A real Paul Rudd “hey...look at us” kind of moment.
Mike Murphy: My favorite moment from 2021 is Akane Shiga making history by scoring not one but TWO GOALs against Team USA at the 2021 Worlds.
🚨 JAPAN GOALLLLLL!!!!!!— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) August 28, 2021
An absolute ideal pass to Akane Shiga to put Japan on the board and cut the US's lead in half
USA 2 - Japan 1 pic.twitter.com/fNEomwpfT8
It’s no secret that most of the women’s hockey content we see in North America is, well, North America-centric. When mainstream media bothers to cover women’s hockey it focuses on Team USA, Team Canada, or any form of scandal or drama in the post-collegiate professional game. Outside of the Worlds and Olympics, we rarely, if ever, see coverage of other national teams or their stars.
So, when 20-year-old Akane Shiga scored her national team’s first and second goal against Team USA at the 2021 Worlds it was a beautiful exclamation point. It demanded that we pay more respect to women’s hockey outside of North America. It was a sign that the wide gap between the top national teams and the rest of the pack is slowly but surely narrowing. It was magic.
On a personal note, Shiga’s two-goal game brought me some much-needed joy and motivation to continue my coverage of women’s hockey in 2021. Sometimes, it can be hard to find joy in this space and the pandemic made those challenges all the more difficult. Moments like Shiga’s two-goal game, Alina Müller celebrating through the glass with her teammates after her injury, or Blayre Turnbull celebrating with Team Canada while sitting on a stretcher are just, well, they’re magic. They make the grind worth it. Thank goodness for moments like that.
Anne Tokarski: There was a lot of frustration in 2021 for fans of and media covering women’s hockey...but there was also a whole heck of a lot of joy and reason to celebrate too.
My favorite moment of 2021 was Ashton Bell’s overtime winner against Colgate in the NCAA quarterfinals to send Minnesota Duluth to the Frozen Four. While the gif below doesn’t quite capture the majority of the celebration, the excitement in Erie Insurance Arena was tangible — and it was deserved, too.
🚨 BULLDOGS GOAL 🚨— The Ice Garden (@TheIceGarden) March 16, 2021
ASHTON BELL WITH THE OVERTIME WINNER OFF THE CROSSBAR!
UMD wins it 1-0 and moves on to the Frozen Four. pic.twitter.com/GT4T0aAUde
Though they would lose to Northeastern in the semifinals, it was the Bulldogs’ first Frozen Four appearance since their national title run in 2009-10 under Shannon Miller, and came after three years of Minnesota Duluth not even qualifying for the national postseason. It was a moment that proved a whole lot for the players on that team, the coaches behind the bench, and the fans in the stands.
It might’ve just been one goal, but it was still, somehow, more than that.
Nathan Vaughan: It was that next Duluth game, also known as the game where Northeastern made the first National Championship game in school history, that especially stood out for me. Winning that first game against Robert Morris, which for a time was the last game in that program’s history, was huge and up next was a WCHA foe with plenty of history in this tournament. The Huskies might have been the top seed but many had doubts they would advance. The start validated the nay sayers, but the spirited come back was highlighted by one of the most beautiful goals I have ever personally seen when Skylar Fontaine picked off a pass and put in the OT winner on her own. Once the puck had bounced off the Duluth net minder’s shoulder even before it crossed the line everyone knew the game was over. I vividly remember jumping higher then I have in many a year and running to the other end of my apartment in pure and utter joy.
The next game was one of the greatest and worst games I have ever seen in person, and in my 15 years following this sport there have been many, but no game so far has surpassed the feelings from Fontaine’s OT heroics.
Simon Hopkins: The PHF expansion to Canada made my 2021. When it was announced in 2020, I had never heard of the NWHL. Fast forward to January of 2021 and I had turned myself into a full-on fan.
On January 23rd, myself and thousands of other fans watched the Toronto Six play their first every game, a 3-0 loss to the Riveters. They may have lost but I didn’t care, the team was finally playing!
The Six followed that game with 38 and a half spectacular minutes of hockey against the Minnesota Whitecaps taking a 5-1 lead. With 90 seconds left in the second, the announcer said something along the lines of well surely Toronto’s got this one in the bag. During intermission, I remember thinking, blowing a 5-1 lead would be the only true way to ordain a new Toronto hockey team. Minnesota beat Toronto in a shootout 6-5.
"It was 4-1" is dead.— Pride Diehards (@PrideDiehards) January 24, 2021
"It was 5-1" is the new vibe. #TORvsMIN
But what followed changed the crummy opening to the weekend into a magical memory. The Toronto Six did the one of greatest things a Toronto sports team can do. Something all Toronto fans dream of. They beat the team from Boston.
A 2-1 win over the Pride featuring late game heroics from Mikyla Grant-Mentis solidified a franchise first win. A moment that had me jumping up and down. The first win for a Canadian team in the PHF is a special memory. Hopefully 2022 brings Toronto the only thing better than beating Boston: beating Montreal.
Holly Morrison: A lot happened in women’s hockey in 2021 and that makes it hard to come up with just one moment. When I think about 2021 and women’s hockey, I think about all the seemingly small things that were announced that would have absolutely delighted me at 12 years old. The PHF’s new partnership with Upper Deck means that we’re going to have hockey cards with PHF players on them some time in the near future. EA Sports’ announcement of a new NHL 22 patch means that finally we’re going to be able to play with the women’s national teams.
Stuff like that might seem small, but it makes an impact when it comes to marketing women’s hockey players. Plus, I really like hockey cards and video games, it’s just cool!
Angelica Rodriguez: After nine years in the business and a 2021 with a lot of pitfalls, sometimes you get bogged down in the quotidian bleakness of your current surroundings. But there was a lot to be happy about during the Buffalo Beauts’ season opener against the Toronto Six, not the least of which was Taylor Accursi taking the all-time franchise scoring record with her game-tying goal midway through the third period.
BUFFALO TIES IT. ACCURSI! pic.twitter.com/X6VWd3fpsy— PHF (@PHF) November 7, 2021
The Beauts are in so many ways the new kids on the block, even while playing a literal new kid on the block (with the Six in just their second season). Practically two-thirds of the roster are newcomers, many without a single PHF game under their belts, and yet they were able to shake off the jitters and stay with a potent Toronto team.
In the end, though, it was veteran Beaut and co-captain Accursi who came through in the clutch, popping one past Elaine Chuli to knot up the game at 3, taking the scoring title out of her three-way tie with Corinne Buie and Kourtney Kunichika. Who else? The only thing better would have been winning that game for her outright.
I remember watching Accursi in her first few games with Buffalo back in 2017, when she scored five goals in three games, and thinking, Man, this kid is going to be a big deal in the PHF very soon. I’m so beyond glad that she’s proven me right, and she’s done so while being a consummate leader and teammate.
Michelle Jay: Pardon my sap but my favorite moment was getting another year of leading The Ice Garden. Its not secret that covering women’s hockey is hard and with the never ending pandemic it’s even harder. But the staff here continually went above beyond and I’ve never been more proud of them.
I asked them to juggle full time jobs and school while balancing the two-week mayhem of Lake Placid. They’re not entirely used to daily games and they crushed that coverage. Then add in the BS bs and COVID and they still produced some of the best work.
International tournaments got postponed and then cancelled and then rescheduled. They took each one in stride, reacting to it, and then being ready when the time came.
Every day they’ve covered women’s hockey the same way men’s hockey is covered, even when it’s tough because of communication issues, lack of stats, and so much more.
And you, the readers, have proven that it’s valuable and I’m so thankful for you all too.