The NWHL announced on November 25th a revision to their timeline for 2020-21 with a shortened season in a protected environment. While the January timeline will hold, each team will now play five games while the Isobel Cup Playoffs will then immediately follow.
With the information available back in July, the NWHL said they were optimistic about the annual All-Star Game upon completion of the playoffs. Given the ongoing situation, no further plans were made beyond the end point of the season on Friday February 5th.
Speaking to the league’s ability to secure a deal, allowing the season to play out, commissioner Tyler Tumminia said, “At a time of hypergrowth for girls’ and women’s hockey, we see this season as a celebration of the sport. This will be a historic moment.”
Following the adjustment in format, The Puck Authority spoke with a pair of players to obtain their reaction to the changes for season six. While players are excited to be playing again, many also know there are still hoops left to jump through. We recently caught up with a handful from the Toronto Six, Metropolitan Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps, Connecticut Whale, Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts.
Kayla Friesen signed with the Connecticut Whale for the league’s sixth season back on the first of July. For Friesen, it’s her first pro season after playing collegiately with the Clarkson Golden Knights.
“I think Herb Brooks Arena is a perfect setting for us to take on our season this year. There is so much history in that building and then for us female professional athletes to create our own history this year with how our season is taking place makes it that much more special for us. Even though there won’t be fans in the building to create the energy and atmosphere for us, I think the energy and history that specific rink holds will take over to give us that goosebump affect when we step on the ice.
I think it’s incredible what the league has been able to do with planning this event for us. Although it’s shorter than usual, I think it’s going to give each team that drive and motivation to raise the caliber each game knowing how important the game will be. For our league to gain sponsors during such a tough time to help make this possible for us is huge. Seeing companies invest in our league and what we stand for is amazing. Our goal as a league is of course to showcase our talents, but most importantly grow the female side of the game for generations to come. being able to have a season in such difficult times gives all the younger girls something to look forward to watching and look forward to working towards. This season is going to be exciting for not only us as players, but the fans, and we’re excited and eager to get there this Friday to kick start it!”
Allie Thunstrom signed with the Minnesota Whitecaps for the league’s sixth season back on April 7th. For Thunstrom, it’s her third pro season after playing independently following her time at Boston College.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to play in the historic 1980 rink in Lake Placid. Every hockey player growing up has heard the stories and watched the videos/movies about the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” so just from that standpoint to be able to play on the same ice surface that featured not only that famous game but the entire 1980 olympic tournament is incredibly special. Beyond that, from a personal level – Lake Placid holds so many special memories, especially playing in Boston College’s first ever Frozen Four. We ultimately lost in the semi-final in OT to UMD but I will never forget that experience. Additionally, Lake Placid has often times been home to National Team and National Program Development camps, so many players on our team and throughout the league have been able to experience the tremendous honor of donning a USA sweater in that very building as we made our way to this point in our careers – it was always an incredible experience spending time there with the best players in the country and this bubble format will undoubtedly be no different.
While everyone certainly would love nothing more than to play a full season in a traditional format, we all very much understand and appreciate the precautions and safety measures being put in place to keep everyone safe amidst the pandemic. We are incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to play and thankful for all of those involved to make it happen. We have had the chance to watch other leagues pull off a bubble format successfully and we are just very excited to have the opportunity to do the same. Our desire to play the game we love certainly doesn’t trump the safety, health and well-being of our country and world – so being able to play at all is a huge blessing and we can’t wait to hit the ice in Lake Placid!”
Brooke Avery was signed by the Riveters back on August 20th, 2019. For Avery, it’s her second pro season after making her debut in 2019-20. A graduate of Syracuse University, Avery sported the “A” in her senior season.
“The bubble announcement sparked a wave of enthusiasm and excitement from the players, the league, the fans and all stakeholders involved in women’s athletics. This process shows the NWHL’s professionalism and dedication to provide its athletes and staff with a platform to compete and advance the game in a way that has never been done before. I’m excited to get back on the ice and win some games with my teammates and be surrounded with like-minded coaches, staff members and personnel. It is a humbling honour to be a part of history.”
Cailey Hutchison was drafted by the Whale 21st overall back in 2018. She was signed by the team back on May 28th. For Hutchison, it’s her second pro season after making her debut in 2019-20. Hutchison, from Hicksville, New York, wore the “A” last season in her first of pro hockey.
“I’m extremely excited to be apart of the NWHL historic bubble season. I played at Northwood School in Lake Placid for four years so to go back as a professional athlete is very surreal. Lake Placid is my favourite place in the world and is the perfect place to play this bubble season.”
Lindsay Eastwood, from Ottawa, Ontario, was signed by Toronto back on June 13th. She’s a graduate of Syracuse University, where she became the school’s all-time leading goal scorer among defenders.
“It’s been a crazy year and I didn’t know what to expect for this hockey season so I am super excited to know we’ll be getting to play some hockey even though it’s a condensed season. I think we have an incredible opportunity here for women’s hockey to get more exposure and show what it’s all about. The WNBA and NWSL have had some great success with their bubble’s not only for pulling it off safely but also for their TV ratings. I’m looking forward to this unique Isobel Cup Playoffs in the new year!”
Mikyla Grant-Mentis signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on May 18th. For Mentis, it’s her first full season after making her debut with the Beauts last season.
“I’m super excited about the bubble and very grateful that the league was able to put something like this together to showcase women’s hockey. I believe this is a huge stepping stone for the NWHL and hope it bring lots of awareness to the league to grow the game. Can’t wait to hit the ice with the first Canadian team in the NWHL.”
Taylor Woods signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on April 22nd. For Woods, it’s her fourth pro season after spending three previously in the CWHL. She did so with the Markham Thunder.
“It means a lot. Like, all these companies, all these people wanna see women’s hockey succeed, it’s a community-type effort that everyone wants to grow in the capacities that they can, and it shows that there’s stages, there’s companies, there’s people that are willing to get it off the ground, we just have to figure out, as a whole, how to get where we want, in terms of having games, getting on maybe NBC, having that season next year, but, like, our dressing room is gonna be fabulous to see, and I know there’s people that worked really, really hard on it, and we got a little bit of a glimpse of some of the woodwork that’s been done, so I’m very excited to see that once we can.”
Kristen Barbara signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on April 27th. For Barbara, it’s her fourth pro season after spending three previously in the CWHL. She did so with the Markham Thunder.
“First off, I want to say what a great opportunity it is to be apart of something super special to the women’s game, and obviously something that has never been done. When we got word that we were doing a bubble season I was super pumped about it, at the end of the day it was either that or no season at all it seemed. Any word or idea on how the NWHL would manage some sort of season was something that we (the six) looked forward too. Training and skating every week became dire not knowing the future of the league this year, until we got news that there was going to be a shortened season in lake placid. It gave us a something to look forward too and something for us to work towards rather than an unknown! Super excited for this opportunity and even more excited to hit the ice again!”
Emma Greco signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on April 22nd. For Greco, it’s her third pro season after spending two previously between Canada and the United States. She did so with both Connecticut and Toronto.
“I think this is the perfect time for the game to showcase an event like the Bubble in Lake Placid. With COVID, people are missing sports right now more than ever. I think the bubble will be a great chance to showcase our talents and get the attention of more people around the world. I think the bubble will also open up a lot more doors with sponsorships which is very exciting.”
Mackenzie MacNeil signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on July 28th. For MacNeil, it’s her third pro season after spending time playing in both Toronto and Copenhagen.
“Today’s announcement regarding the 2021 season could not have come at a better time, we have been preparing for the season for many months now with several unknowns but today we finally have the answers and I couldn’t be more pleased with all the work the NWHL has done to make this possible for us. It’s an incredibly exciting time for women’s hockey and I am thrilled to be joining the Toronto Six in Lake Placid!”
Sarah Steele signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on July 13th. For Steele, it’s her fourth pro season after spending three previously overseas in Europe. She did so in Hungary, Austria and Switzerland.
“An exceptional amount of time and consideration went into the planning of the upcoming bubble tournament. As a player I’m both humbled and thrilled that we, as female professional athletes, have been given such an amazing opportunity amidst uncertain times. I’m confident that the 2020 NWHL bubble tournament will go down as a significant moment in the history of women’s hockey.”
Sarah-Eve Coutu-Godbout signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on the seventh of May. For Coutu-Godbout, it’s her first pro season after playing collegiately with the Quinnipiac Bobcats.
“Being able to play at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, where one of the biggest moments in hockey history took place, feels really special. Moreover, we will be the first professional women’s tournament played on “Miracle on Ice.”
It’s a great way to show people and sports fanatics that women’s hockey has its place. With the pace of women’s/girls hockey growing fast, putting in place a tournament as big during a global pandemic shows how serious we are about growing the game. I am very thankful for the opportunity and am thankful for all the work the league is putting in by making it happen. We really are on a mission to change the sport and I cannot wait to play my first pro year.”
Samantha Ridgewell signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on May 19th. For Ridgewell, it’s her second pro season after playing last season with Djurgårdens IF.
“Myself, along with my Toronto Six teammates are beyond excited to know that we will be heading to Lake Placid for a bubble season. It was a long few months of practice with so many unknowns about whether or not we would get to play any games at all. But the NWHL has made it possible for us! I am sure every team is excited that there will be a 2020/21 season, but I think it’s hard to match our excitement level going into our inaugural season. The hype that we have gotten from our fans in preparation for this upcoming season about how they cannot wait to follow along and see us play shows how great of a support system we have up here in Toronto.
As for playing in the Herb Brooks Arena… I can’t wait! I have never been there but everytime I tell people that our bubble season is going to be played at Lake Placid, they all tell me how lucky I am and that it’s by far their favourite rink they have ever played in. So I am looking forward to seeing what they are talking about!”
Elaine Chuli signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on April 22nd. For Chuli, it’s her third pro season after spending two previously in the CWHL. She did so with both China and Toronto.
“As a member of the Toronto Six, I am very excited to be a part of the league’s unique sixth season. What the NWHL has arranged is remarkable, considering all the challenges faced this year. It will be an awesome stage for women’s hockey and we are all really looking forward to getting to Lake Placid. A big thank you to the league and everyone involved in making this happen and I can’t wait to be a part of it!”
Breanne Wilson-Bennett signed with the Toronto Six for their inaugural season back on June 22nd. For Wilson-Bennett, it’s her second pro season after playing last season with MODO Hockey.
“This has been a really tough year for everyone and I am beyond grateful that I have had hockey to get through it. I feel very lucky to have been able to continue to train for the sport I love through this pandemic. We’ve all had to adapt and overcome a lot of adversity, but everyone from ownership to coaching staff have done a phenomenal job getting us ready for the bubble. I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done to get us here. They’ve put in countless hours and we intend to repay them by bringing home the Isobel Cup to Toronto.
Every hockey player has watched miracle about a thousand times on the way to away tournaments or on the team bus and I can’t wait to play in such a historic venue. I actually played there with the under 18 Canadian national team and scored my first international goal there so I’m very excited to get back out there and make some new memories. This team is full of such impressive women and I’m absolutely honoured to get to play next to each and every one of them. Digit has picked a group of very talented hockey players, but more importantly she picked a team of really great people. I believe that’s what will be the difference maker because we are truly a team much like that 1980 Olympic team.”
Christina Putigna signed with the Boston Pride for the league’s sixth season back on April 9th. For Putigna, it’s her second pro season after playing collegiately with the Providence Friars.
“It is a huge step for us to be able to play out our season in the bubble format. I just think it shows how every day, there are more and more people buying in, acknowledging and supporting women’s sports. I think it is a huge statement by our league, to be able to grow quickly amidst everything that has come this past year. To bounce back from missing out on crowning a champion to now having a season, in the environment we are going to be in, is outstanding. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into something like this so I cannot even imagine the tireless efforts from everybody for making this happen. We feel that it is truly something to be thankful for and to look forward to. My teammates and I are working hard to be sure there’s a crowned winner this year; so stay tuned.”
Mallory Souliotis signed with the Boston Pride for the league’s sixth season back on April 15th. For Souliotis, it’s her third pro season after playing collegiately with the Yale Bulldogs.
“It’s really exciting to have this season take place in what is definitely known as the cathedral of ice hockey at the 1980 Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid. Growing up, my brother played in a few tournaments there and I was dragged along, but I never had my chance to skate there. For the NWHL and women’s hockey to tag team the opportunity to pull off a bubble season in Lake Placid is indescribable. I’m so excited for our team to compete in the Isobel Cup in January, I know a lot of the teams have been hard at work preparing, so I think it’s gone a be a rollercoaster of a two weeks of women’s hockey.
Women’s hockey and the NWHL itself continues to gain a bigger following, we had a lot of momentum last season going into the Cup Final, which was eventually cancelled. I think the players and all of the staff are really looking forward to Lake Placid, it’s an incredible opportunity and no doubt will be tons of fun and intense hockey. I for sure cannot wait to step out on the 1980 ice with the Boston Pride and compete for the Isobel Cup. Make sure to tune in come January, it’s sure to be a wild ride!”
Jordan Juron signed with the Buffalo Beauts for the league’s sixth season on November 23rd. For Juron, it’s her fourth pro season after spending three previously in the NWHL. She did so between Boston and Buffalo.
“Being able to pull a season off amidst this pandemic and a multitude of unknowns is truly something special and a testament to those who run our league as well as all the players who wear the jerseys. For my teammates and I, we are chomping at the bit for lack of better wording to travel to Lake Placid and get to work. I believe the entire event will put women’s hockey at center stage with a backdrop that means more to the history of hockey in the US than probably any other venue and will help grow the sport as well as our mission in the coolest way possible.”
Digit Murphy is the president and head coach of the newest expansion team, the Toronto Six. Murphy spent 22 years in collegiate hockey at Brown University. Following that, Murphy spent three years with the Boston Blades in the CWHL. A couple years later, she coached the Kunlun Red Star and the Chinese National Team in a bid for the Olympics. Murphy was hired by Toronto to help build the team prior to launch back in April.
“It’s historic. It’s something that has never been done before for women’s hockey. I stand by what I said with Sportsnet when I said that the only person that could have pulled this off in a global pandemic in the short period of time when she was hired was Tyler Tumminia. I think it’s going to be this incredibly…and you know, Tyler is used to putting on a show too, so every team she’s owned has always done things that were unique to the market. She’s not afraid to think outside the box, so I’m sure she’ll have a couple rabbits in her hat and pull one out of her sleeve, but I think that she’s gonna put together something that’s historic.”
Lisa Haley is the new assistant coach of the newest expansion team, the Toronto Six. Since 2011, she has been the head coach of the Ryerson Rams women’s team in the OUA.
“You know, I think it’s been such a wrestling match for professional women’s sports across all platforms, and I think there’s been a lot of obviously negative and sad moments with what COVID has brought to us, but there’s been a few shining moments, and I think the WNBA event, and the attention they were able to garner because a lot of the professional sports on the male side were not up and running to the same extent, I think is what we’re looking to do as well with the NWHL is to, maybe there’s a little bit more piece of this stage that we can have, and attention, and that’s all that it’s gonna take. I mean, obviously I think team sports on the female side at the pro level are tremendous to watch, we just don’t get the opportunity to do that, so I think this two-week concentrated effort is gonna do wonders in exposing all the great things about our game and I’m very happy to be a part of it.”
Spiros Anastas is the new assistant coach of the newest expansion team, the Toronto Six. Anastas will be responsible for assisting in video coordination, pre-scouting, stats and analytics, practice, and game planning.
“I’m proud to be a part of the Beast and Six partnership and to join this great staff as an Assistant Coach for their inaugural season. This will be a unique experience in Lake Placid, as the condensed format will make for a very competitive and high stakes environment. My goal as a person, not just a coach, is to continuously stretch myself, expand my horizons, and learn. This experience has given me a deeper appreciation for these great coaches and athletes as they exemplify true love for the game. We have a vision of growing the game and exposure of these elite athletes through our partnership. Through this process, I am extremely fortunate to be afforded with the opportunity to have a competitive 2020-21 season, be mentored by two amazing coaches, and make a direct impact in accomplishing our vision.”