Just a couple days prior to Christmas, Santa left a big gift in the form of visibility. The National Women’s Hockey League announced on Tuesday that NBCSN will carry the Isobel Cup Playoffs.
A landmark for the pro women’s game, NBC’s two-day coverage will begin on February 4th with the single-elimination Isobel Cup Semifinals. That will be followed by the Final, which will be aired exclusively on February 5th.
A groundbreaking deal for women’s hockey, the formal agreement marks the first pro women’s hockey game to be carried live in the U.S. on a national cable network. Additionally, streams and coverage will be available on the NBC Sports App and NBCSports.com.
The Semifinals will see two games played at the historic bubble site of Herb Brooks Arena. The first at 5:30pmET followed by the second at 8:00pmET. The winner of each game will then advance to the Isobel Cup Final on Friday February 5th. That telecast will be carried at 7:00pmET.
The agreement comes on the hands of the excellent work done by Tyler Tumminia. Tumminia took over in October as interim commissioner in the place of Dani Rylan. She was appointed in the face of a turnover, which has seen the league since follow an alternative governance model. Seeking independent team ownership, Rylan took on a new position as acting president of the Riveters, Whitecaps, Beauts and Whale.
Tumminia then transitioned to commissioner after joining the league as the Toronto Six chairman. In doing so, she’s added vast experience from her previous work in minor league baseball. With a background in both sponsorships and marketing, it made Tyler Tumminia the ideal candidate.
With that, her main focus has since turned to advancing the league and its professional standards. With one of those being a TV deal, she accomplished just that to grow the game’s visibility. Addressing its significance on Tuesday, Ty Tumminia said of what this means for the sport, “Our partnership with NBC Sports is monumental for the visibility of the NWHL. Never before has women’s professional hockey had the opportunity to reach so many people on American television in the United States. As we have seen with the WNBA and NWSL this year when women’s major league sports leagues are given a strong showcase, viewership is increased and countless new fans connect with the teams and players. NBC Sports provides the NWHL’s biggest games in our upcoming season in Lake Placid with best-in-class production and award-winning announcers. The NWHL will deliver intense, memorable hockey for the viewers on NBCSN as an Isobel Cup champion is crowned.”
Speaking with The Associated Press, Tumminia said that the setting was included in the league’s pitch. Now, with the network on board, they look to add to the history of the storied arena. While the broadcast crews have not yet been chosen, the network is dedicated to providing their best.
With women’s hockey not carried nationally everyday, the league’s interim commissioner stressed the mission to change that. “To me, that’s the biggest piece about this, the biggest element, is not just touching an audience once every four years. It’s epic for the league and what it does for our brand, but it’s so important for young girls and boys to be able to see female athletes on television like this and not just once every four years.”
In a statement from Michael Perman, Vice President of programming at NBC Sports, he said of the momentous occasion, “As the home of hockey in the U.S., NBC Sports is proud to showcase the NWHL to a national audience. These historic broadcasts on NBCSN further our commitment to showcasing the game at all levels.”
Perman was far from alone in expressing his content about the remarkable headline. Speaking just a short time afterwards, league founder Dani Rylan shared the following sentiment, “Tune in, girls! The Isobel Cup is on! If you can see it, you can be it. So proud of these massive strides for the NWHL.”
Several players also shared their excitement, including Cailey Hutchison from the Metropolitan Riveters. “This is such a huge step for the NWHL and women’s professional hockey and I am SO proud to be apart of it! Thank you to the NWHLPA, NWHL and our commissioner for all the hard work they’ve put in to get us here!”
Karilyn Pilch, Boston Pride general manager, took to Twitter as well to share her genuine elation. “Professional. Women’s. Hockey. Live on NBC Sports. I hope we all take a minute to reflect on what a historic moment this will be. Forever thankful to the Boston Pride, and the entire NWHL for all the consistent and groundbreaking effort you have put into making this a reality.”
The Puck Authority spoke on Wednesday with Toronto Six goaltender Samantha Ridgewell. Asked for her thoughts on the deal and Tyler Tumminia, who came in and made it happen, she said, “Yeah, I mean, she crushed it. The whole league and everybody behind it, I mean, just, I can’t applaud them enough for what they were able to accomplish with this deal.
I mean, I got so many texts pouring in saying, “oh my gosh, you’re gonna have to make it all the way so we can watch you on TV now,” stuff like that, so it’s fun to have that type of support too. And I mean, even I scrolled through Twitter, every time I opened my Twitter yesterday, it was another new tweet from somebody, how pumped they were about this big news and how important it is for women’s hockey, so yeah, I mean, it’s huge for women’s hockey. I think they were saying it’s the first time that professional women’s hockey will actually be broadcasted on live TV aside from the Olympics. I mean, it really doesn’t get much better than that.”
The two-week event begins on January 23rd, composed of 24 games over 14 days. 15 are regular season, with another six after to claim the top four seeds. That’ll be followed by two semifinals (1v4, 2v3), which, in turn, will result in the Isobel Cup Final.
With the final pieces coming together, players, coaches and staff are all anxious to get it going. For Commissioner Ty Tumminia, it’ll be the conclusion to this miracle project. On Monday, the NWHL partnered with Yale Pathology Labs for COVID-19 testing. In doing so, the NWHL became the first women’s pro sport league to implement SalivaDirect.
On Wednesday, the NWHL announced the bubble will feature an all female officiating staff. With 10 officials from USA Hockey, another piece of the puzzle falls in place for Lake Placid. Now, just four weeks out from first puck drop, Ty Tumminia knows she’s set the bar for women’s pro hockey. “I am quite excited it’s all starting to seem real. I’m looking forward to it all happening and working out great. … Definitely thrilled for what it means for our athletes.”