The National Women’s Hockey League will complete its abbreviated season with two nationally televised semifinals and a championship game some two months after the league suspended its playoffs following a COVID-19 breakout among numerous teams.
The league on Monday announced play will resume outside of Boston with the semifinals on March 26, followed by the Isobel Cup Final the next day. Fans will not be allowed to attend, and the NWHL said it will have “strict health protocols in place,” with daily testing provided to players and staff.
“What matters most for us is to finish this, raise the cup and have a championship and give these athletes a chance to make history and finish what they started,” NWHL Commissioner Tyler Tumminia told The Associated Press
“I wish it was happening tomorrow. The waiting part is the hard part,” she added, noting last year’s championship game was canceled a day before the final was to be played due to the pandemic. “They haven’t raised the cup in two years, so this is a very emotional thing for them.”
Tumminia also placed an emphasis on the league, teams and players to be more accountable in adhering to safety protocols to prevent a repeat of the disruption, when play was stopped on the eve of the four-team playoffs at Lake Placid, New York, on Feb. 3.
“We had a pretty tight protocol in place. It was the enforcement, in my mind,” she said. “It’s going to take a deeper collaborative effort from the team’s accountability and leadership, player accountability and league accountability.”
Players broke the protocols by leaving their hotels to tour the town. The NWHL was criticized for allowing teams to shuttle in replacement players after games began, for having teams stay in the same hotel, and allowing teams share the same training personnel.
Tumminia said one change will feature teams staying in separate hotels.
As for the playoff format, the six-team league’s board of governors made one alteration to the matchups.
The Connecticut Whale, who play the Minnesota Whitecaps in one semifinal, will be the third-seeded team despite withdrawing from the tournament with a 2-2 record. Connecticut replaces the Buffalo Beauts, who were initially the fourth-seeded team.
The expansion Toronto Six are the top seed, and will face the Boston Pride in the other semifinal.
The Metropolitan Riveters are out of the playoff picture. They were 2-1 and the first to team withdraw after at least 10 players tested positive for COVID-19.
The suspension of the two-week tournament was a blow to a privately funded league attempting to squeeze in its sixth season, and a lost opportunity for national visibility with NBCSN scheduled to broadcast the playoffs. NBCSN is on board to broadcast the final three games.
The postponement overshadowed the league making inroads with viewership on its streaming platforms. The NWHL said the 15 games played attracted a total of 1.62 million live views on Twitch, and peaked with 32,000 viewers tuning in to watch Boston play Buffalo on Jan. 30.
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