Yesterday was the 35th annual International Girls and Women in Sports Day, a day to celebrate all the incredibly skilled, talented, and hard-working women and girls playing any and all kinds of sports all over the globe. Yesterday was also the day that the NWHL announced that it is cutting their hockey season short and sending everyone home from the Lake Placid bubble. It’s heartbreaking that these two events have coincided.
The NWHL and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) have agreed, due to new positive COVID-19 tests and the resulting safety concerns for the players, their respective staff & the community that the remainder of the 2021 NWHL Season in Lake Placid have been suspended.— NWHL (@NWHL) February 3, 2021
Last week, the Metropolitan Riveters dropped out of the bubble season after a few of their players tested positive for Covid. Three days ago, the Connecticut Whales withdrew for the same reasons – we now know that the team had multiple players test positive before announcing their departure. What was once a bubble became more of a “restrictive access environment,” without a mandatory quarantine and with new players entering at staggered times. Yesterday’s announcement shouldn’t have been such a shock, but it still was.
There are so many aspects of this sudden suspension decision that are regrettable. It’s a huge blow for women’s’ hockey, not only because they were finally going to be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network; not just because they were enjoying the awesome opportunity afforded them by having each game broadcast for free via Twitch; not because they’d secured a huge presenting sponsor for the Isobel Cup, Dick’s Sporting Goods; and not because it was the newly formed Toronto Six’s first venture in the league (GO SIX GO!). The biggest blow here is to the league’s stability, and maybe even its credibility. As Ken Campbell pointed out in his piece for SI’s The Hockey News, the damage caused by “the complete debacle that was the 2020-21 NWHL’s non-bubble non-season” might be too much for the league to bounce back from.
Can players trust the league to keep them safe? Can the public trust the league to model proper safety procedures and to reflect the priorities of today’s social climate? I don’t know about you, but I want to follow and support a league that doesn’t make me question its professional behaviour, per se. And I definitely don’t want to question its ethics.
I, for one, am hoping and praying that the NWHL can bounce back. My beloved Six were on fire in that “bubble,” and the excitement of other players and staff was utterly contagious. From the Minnesota Whitecaps’ goalies dancing with cardboard cut-outs of Minnesota Wild players, to the “Zambonanza” merch now being sold, to the electric atmosphere of the Twitch fan chat, this strange, unorthodox sixth season has been an incredible experience. I will continue to hope that we get to see an official end to this season (preferably with the T6 hoisting the Isobel Cup) and that 2021-22 season offers all the excitement, glory, and respectable professional behaviour – on all levels – that we fans deserve.
Maybe next year, the 36th annual International Girls and Women in Sports Day won’t be marred by such a disappointing announcement from my favourite women’s sports league. Here’s hoping.
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Photo credit: Michelle Jay