Eight months ago the National Women's Hockey League was forced to cancel its season and the future was uncertain if there would be a near return to the ice. But there was hope and an ultimate goal. Find a way to play, safely.
The NWHL announced its plan to roll out a tournament-style two-week condensed season in Lake Placid, N.Y., beginning Jan. 23. This was not only great news for the league but also its players. It is common that most NWHL players have another source of income, and work multiple jobs. The league took all into consideration and gave every player the option to opt-in or opt-out of the bubble format. Regardless of their decision, full salaries for the season will still be granted.
The National Women's Hockey League today announced a plan to play the upcoming season and 2021 Isobel Cup Playoffs at the 1980 Rink-Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, NY
PRESS RELEASE: https://t.co/EWlz31m8wY pic.twitter.com/QyCKGCKQ0K
— NWHL (@NWHL) November 25, 2020
This was a spark in what has been an uphill year. Relief. The puck will hit the ice in two months.
Six teams will compete in upstate New York and for the players who opt-in to the bubble, a chance to raise the Isobel Cup. Anticipation is rising, especially for rookie defender Lindsay Eastwood of the Toronto Six.
Eastwood entered the NWHL and signed with the Six in June after finishing both her master's degree and hockey career at Syracuse University. A Canadian native, Eastwood had a decorated career at Syracuse where she earned the status of being one of the top defenders in the country. Her love for the game can be attributed to her family's roots on the ice. Her Uncle, Mike Eastwood, played in the NHL for 13 seasons.
Ready to add to the Eastwood legacy, Lindsay said she was ready to take her game to the next level. But once COVID broke, the uncertainties began to pile.
Multiple professional sports leagues made the adjustment with managing the virus and finding a way to resume their seasons safely. The NWHL had a lot of variables to consider and there was inevitably some doubt.
"We are the only Canadian team," said Eastwood. "I was thinking there was no way we play unless we have a bubble. The Canadian border isn't going to let us keep crossing the borders for games."
The tournament and the bubble will be dependent on strict health protocols and daily COVID-19 testing. A normal season would consist of close to 30 games and then playoffs. This condensed season will only be the two-week tournament in Lake Placid.
Eastwood has dedicated every year in the past decade to hockey and in August she had the opportunity to work for the pro's and cover the Tampa Bay Lightning. She said that experience and watching other sports during the pandemic gave her hope that a season return could be possible.
"I got to work in the NHL bubble and saw how the bubble worked. The NWSL and the WNBA were super successful in their bubbles as well, so our team vibe was that we believe we are right up there with them," said Eastwood. "We're in the big leagues and are going to make it happen. It is a great opportunity for women's hockey and if we pull this off, it would be great exposure. Which is what the sport needs the most."
Eastwood explained how the Toronto Six organization was very persistent on finding a way to play. President and Head Coach, Digit Murphy, told Sportsnet.ca that a big factor in the expedite of the next season came from newly interim NWHL commissioner Tyler Tumminia. Tumminia comes from a front office background and previously worked in the MLB.
Starting Jan. 21 Women's hockey will get the green light and the 2021 season will commence.
The excitement level is there for the players, but also it is unknown of what level of play we will see. This has been the longest offseason for some players and due to health risks, practices and training have been either remote or heavily limited.
"It'll be almost a year without playing a full game. Usually in a season the first few months you work out the kinks and get to know your teammates. But now in the tournament style, there is no warmup games. We get right down to business and don't have any time to waste. You can workout as hard as you want off the ice, but it's a lot different on the ice," said Eastwood.