The good news for the Buffalo Beauts is they will have a hockey season this winter. However, they will not be playing it in front of local fans. The National Women's Hockey League announced the Beauts and its other five professional clubs will play a condensed season in a "bubble" format in Lake Placid, New York.
The NWHL and New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority announced the plan for the 2021 season Wednesday morning. The Beauts, Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale, Metropolitan Riveters, Minnesota Whitecaps and expansion Toronto Six will play each other once in a brief regular season, followed by a playoff. The season will run January 23 through February 5, 2021.
“The NWHL is excited to provide hockey fans a fast-paced schedule of thrilling games on the road to the Isobel Cup,” said NWHL Interim Commissioner Tyler Tumminia in a prepared statement. "The continued challenges brought by the pandemic resulted in a mandate for our league, players and partners to collaborate on creating a controlled environment protecting the health of everyone involved."
Beauts general manager Nate Oliver says with COVID numbers rising again, moving to a bubble model is the right decision.
"It's certainly not the most ideal for a fan experience, but there's a lot of positive things that go to it as well," he said. "First and foremost is, of course, safety. And I think that's what all professional leagues are looking at to keep their players and their staff safe."
The National Basketball Association, Women's National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer were among the sports leagues that used bubble models, sequestering their players and staff to a campus and playing games with no fans in attendance, to complete rescheduled seasons. The National Hockey League used a dual bubble model, a separate location for its two conferences, to hold its Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Lake Placid played host to the 1980 Winter Olympics. The games are remembered by hockey fans for the United States men's team winning the gold medal. Before that historic win over Finland came the "Miracle on Ice," an upset of the mighty Soviet Union hockey team by an American squad made up of college players.
All of the Beauts players were born long after that event, but Oliver says they're excited by the opportunity to play where hockey history was made.
"It's certainly not missed by the other players, beyond just the Americans are Canadian players. Even our Slovakian players, they're huge fans of the movie Miracle," he said. "When we first told our team, that was something that resonated with all of them, as like, 'wow, you know, I'm going to be playing in the same place where the Miracle on Ice happened.'"
The Beauts, who debuted in the 2015-16 season, played their home games last season inside the Northtown Center at Amherst, relocating there after playing their first four seasons at HarborCenter in Buffalo.
Plans for broadcasting games within the bubble will be announced in the near future, the league stated Wednesday.