The NWHL’s shortened two week season got started over the weekend. All of this year’s games are being played at the historic Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid to decrease the chances of COVID impacting the league. The Buffalo Beauts got off to a slow start losing their first two games. Victory Press and women’s hockey writer Melissa Burgess spoke with WBFO’s Nick Lippa on how everything is looks so far.
All of this year's NWHL games can be viewed online for free on Twitch.
The semi-finals and championship game will additionally be broadcasted on NBCSN.
Nick Lippa: It’s been almost a year since the NWHL last had games. How does it feel to be back watching women’s hockey and how do the players look after such a long break?
MB: It feels so good to be back. Watching hockey, watching women's hockey. Watching them, you can definitely tell that it took a lot to get here. So many different moving parts, just from the team, the league, the players, their jobs, the health perspective, testing, accommodations, and all that-- so much work put into this. And I think it's gone well, so far. Players definitely this weekend, (were) kind of getting adjusted to things, getting back into game mode. Some of the players mentioned, they've been practicing over the last few months. But that's practice. And these are games and that's totally different. For instance, the Beauts, when they were practicing even recently, they were split into two groups because there's a group of Canadians practicing over the border. And then there were the Beauts in America practicing here in Buffalo. So they hadn’t really had a full team practice prior to going to Lake Placid. So there's definitely some adjustment period and so many new players and everything, but things look great from an overall league standpoint. But the Beauts definitely have some work to do.
Have we had any COVID scares so far as games have gotten underway?
MB: As far as I know, everything's gone well. Teams traveled Thursday and Friday to Lake Placid. Everyone traveled by a private bus company, except for Minnesota who had to fly. And we did get some details about the NWHL procedures. Teams had to show proof of a negative test before coming to Lake Placid and have no symptoms. Players are tested regularly, each player has their own room, there's no shared meals or food or drink in the locker room. So I think that they're going about it well. I think it's tough and anything can happen obviously, especially with the way that COVID is transmitted. You could have it and not know it for a week. So somebody could have technically brought it into Lake Placid and still not know. So the hope is, of course, that we stay clear and everybody gets through the next week and a half and then goes home and nothing ever comes up. And it's very possible so I think (the NWHL) is doing what they can and doing the best they can in order to have a season.
There’s been a lot of changes to rosters heading into this unique season. How is everybody looking so far?
MB: I think it's pretty much what we expected. The Minnesota Whitecaps who were one or two of the teams who were supposed to play for the championship last year, looks fantastic again, which is to be expected considering they have a lot of returning players. The Boston Pride look great. They lost their first game to Minnesota. But then came back on Sunday night and really showed the Beauts just how good of a team they are. Metropolitan Riveters look good so far. And then the Connecticut Whale are maybe one of those surprising teams. They beat the Beauts on Saturday night and they could be a contender. The new team, the Toronto Six-- it's a lot of new pieces. They played only two games now together as a team ever. So definitely some growing pains there. And then for the Beauts, there's definitely some things to like and some pieces to work on.
And this is going to be a season that comes quick and fast, right? We're going to be in the playoffs in about two weeks. What are important scheduling tidbits we should know?
MB: So each team is playing five, what would be considering regular season games. And there's some round robin action based on seeding, but that is still also considered regular season. After that, teams will be seated and then the top four teams will go on to the semi-finals. So those bottom two teams will be done. And we'll have some semi-final action and a one game Isobel Cup final.
That sounds rough for the Beauts who have already lost their first two.
MB: It's a short season. So every game really counts. So you figure now you are two games down already. They can't really afford to lose anymore at that point.
You can follow Burgess on Twitter @_MelissaBurgess for NWHL updates.
Read Burgess' work here at Victory Press. She has day recaps for the games already played.