On Saturday, January 23, the NWHL's 2020-21 season will finally get underway in Lake Placid, New York. This tournament will see a new team, and new format, and a new beginning for the National Women's Hockey League, which has been on pause since pandemic restrictions began in North America last March.
Let's check it out!
The debut of the Toronto Six
This season is going to feature the first games of the Toronto Six, the first Canadian team in the NWHL. The team was announced back in April 2020. It fulfilled a promise made by the NWHL after the collapse of the CWHL (Canadian Women's Hockey League) in April 2019 ended Canada's only pro women's hockey league.
The team is named The Six for a few reasons. They're the sixth team in the NWHL. There are six players on the ice at a time. And one of Toronto's nicknames is 'The Six', thanks to the megacity's six original cities: Etobicoke, Toronto, York, North York, East York, and Scarborough. Though the team has only had a handful of practices together and no games, they're pumped to get started.
heading to Lake Placid tomorrow like.. pic.twitter.com/hHc4yRg0dq
— Toronto Six (@TheTorontoSix) January 20, 2021
What's being called a bubble 'season', is really a super intense, two-week tournament. Starting on January 23, the league's six teams will play 24 games in just two weeks, ending in a championship game on Friday, February 5.
This upcoming season’s schedule, with some minor corrections! 🗓🏒 pic.twitter.com/BlqD2il945
— NWHL (@NWHL) January 14, 2021
The teams in the league are the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan (New York) Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps, and Toronto Six. All players will undergo strict daily COVID testing and no fans will attend the games. But all games will be available for free streaming here. Awesome, right? And the games will be worth following, because there's a lot on the line.
Points to prove
When the NWHL restarts, there will be more at stake than just the Isobel Cup, the league's top prize. The players are also trying to prove the excitement and passion of the women's game. It is going to be an interesting look at a sport that was already in the middle of controversy long before COVID-19 arrived.
Back in May, 2019, many of women's hockey's best players started a boycott, or protest, of the NWHL until a new league was started. The protesters wanted fairer pay so they could actually play hockey as a job, the same way men in the NHL do. Currently, NWHL players only make about $15,000 US a season—nowhere near enough to live on and a shadow of what the lowest paid NHL players make (about $675,000 US a season).
Though the boycott is still active, there are many athletes ready to give this tournament everything they have.
"We have a lot of eyes on us," said Toronto Six defender Emma Greco to TSN.ca. "It's really important for us to compete in the bubble especially because the finals and the semifinals are going to be on NBC Sports, which is a huge deal. If we can pull this off, professionally, safely, it will send a big message to everyone about women's ice hockey."
Get to know the captain of the new Toronto team, Shiann Darkangelo, in the video below.