While the National Women’s Hockey League has had their sights set for puck drop in January, all teams have now hit the ice for workouts in cohorts and full-team practices. This was the direction provided by Dani Rylan Kearney, the league’s former commissioner.
Now, with a change in leadership, the focus turns to evolution for this season and beyond. However, with season six still a looming question as a result of restrictions set to prioritize safety, it appears the league may hit another roadblock just given the reality of the newest expansion team.
With the Toronto Six having launched back in April, the NWHL’s first team in a Canadian market, it makes a return to play trickier with the boarders closed off between the U.S. and Canada. While doing so to curve COVID-19 transmission, it now raises red flags as to the team’s current status.
In anticipation for their debut in the new year, the team has been practicing at Canlan Ice Sports. The roster, which stands at 17, has been formed by Digit Murphy and led by GM Mandy Cronin.
Despite the full team gathered and skating, the league faces a new challenge at the hands of the government. Speaking from his home in Ottawa with Global News Radio on October 14th, PM Justin Trudeau said the boarder will stay closed until the United States gets COVID-19 under control.
However, restrictions, to some degree, were recently lifted to reunite those apart and those with family who are dying. That aside, as the country’s protocol has stated, only essential workers who need to cross over can do so.
This might now leave another question, being is air travel permitted between the U.S. and Canada. While the answer to this question is yes, all entering the country must comply to a quarantine. So, where does this leave the NWHL?
Right off the bat, if some headway was made, this would not be doable from the stance of their schedule. While the league changed their course of action to a 20 game layout for 2020-21, their plan for games on consecutive weekends would be well thrown off while many players have jobs.
Because of those implications alone while keeping in mind any impact financially, it certainly brings doubt to the table, this being the latest snag the league must work around. Speaking further to this, The Puck Authority learned that the NWHL is discussing alternative proposals should it be deemed as necessary.
Whereas the plan with the addition of Toronto was to raise the schedule to 24 games, the league has had conversation about a 15 game season with puck drop falling in March. With hope for January seemingly diminished, this would see games be played from March 6th to the end of April.
While this would typically be playoff time for the Isobel Cup to be handed out, the postseason would be pushed back to May, plus the annual All-Star Game if they still chose to hold it. Along with the league’s return plan for January, this is something they’ve looked at for when the season is over.
Along with that, another question raised out of concern for transmission is capacity of spectators. This has been a rather large focus point seeing as all ticket sales help provide the league revenue. As such, majority of their rinks hold at least 1,000, if not more, fans in seating, but with the need to distance fans out of safety, it raises the question of how many tickets sold per game.
While COVID-19 has hit many U.S. cities hard, both Quebec and Ontario have seen their struggles as well. Keeping in mind the current spike in cases, The Puck Authority learned that Canlan Ice Sports will allow a capacity of 200 per game. With a total of 1,200 seats, this will properly allow for them to take the right measures.
Given the NWHL’s focus of ensuring a sixth season safely takes place, the league continues working closely in consultation with NYU Langone Health. With their staff and public health experts in each market, they continue to monitor the ongoing situation.
In the timeline announcement shared back in July, the NWHL said that announcements on ticket sales and capacity of fans will be made at the season’s start. Each step they have taken to do this has been in the best interest of their staff and the players. With the ongoing guidance of medical professionals, they’ll take the best route provided to a safe return.