A resilient NWHL is ready to make history on the NBCSN.
By Alex Holmes
The NWHL will make history this weekend when four of its teams play for the Isobel Cup on national television. After suspending its season due to COVID-19 and then having to navigate the uncertainty of when it would resume, the NWHL is back. The league’s return attests to its resilience and the opportunity to play on the NBC Sports Network will be worth the wait. North America’s only professional women’s ice hockey league has returned.
The NWHL originally planned a three-week bubble season in Lake Placid, New York, scheduled from mid-January through early February. The first two weeks were a success, highlighted by record viewership numbers on Twitch and the announcement of new sponsorship deals with high-profile brands like Discover Card and Dicks Sporting Goods. The anticipation for the Isobel Cup playoffs was especially high because it would be the first time a professional women’s ice hockey league’s championship series was to air on a major national television network.
As the league approached the playoffs, two of the six teams were forced to drop out of the bubble due to COVID-19 protocol and concerns. On February 3, the devastating news came—the NWHL was suspending its season due to COVID-19. The decision came one day before the NWHL was scheduled to make its debut on a major national sports network.
The announcement, though necessary and in the players’ best interests, was devastating to NWHL leadership, the players, and fans. On the brink of history, the league found itself having to scrap its plans, scrambling to get players home safely and determine when it could safely restart. The question of whether the NWHL would get another chance at performing in front of a nationally televised audience also loomed.
On March 8, the NWHL announced the answer to those questions—the Isobel Cup would resume and, yes, the semifinals and final would air on the NBC Sports Network.
The first semifinal will be between the top-seeded Toronto Six and the fourth-seeded Boston Pride. The two teams met once in the bubble, with the Six beating the Pride 2–1 after scoring two goals in the third period.
The second semifinal will be between No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Connecticut. The two teams did not play in the bubble, so this playoff game will mark their first meeting of 2021. The Whitecaps are vying for a second Isobel Cup to add to their collection, with the first coming in its debut season in 2019. The Connecticut Whale were having one of their best seasons in franchise history before the season was suspended. This is the Whale’s highest seed going into the playoffs since the NWHL postseason play began in 2017.
Toronto owns a four-game win streak heading into its matchup with Boston. Minnesota played the best defense in the bubble, conceding the least amount of goals. The Boston Pride won its last two games before the season was suspended and scored the most goals of all four teams in the bubble.
Toronto forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis leads all players in goals scored coming into the playoffs. Boston’s Kaleigh Fratkin and Christina Putigna lead the league in assists. The Pride’s Lovisa Selander owns the best goals against average of the goaltenders playing in the semifinals.
On air for NBCSN is an experienced, all-female broadcast team. Kate Scott, A.J. Mleczko, and Caley Chelios will provide the commentary for the playoffs. All three games will take place at the Warrior Ice Arena, which is the training rink for the NHL’s Boston Bruins.
The 2021 NWHL season began like no other in its history and will end like no other in its history. Despite the uncertainty and frustration amid a global pandemic, a resilient NWHL will finish what it started.
A team will lift the Isobel Cup on Saturday night.
The 2021 NWHL Isobel Cup Playoffs begin on Friday, March 26 at 5 P.M. ET with the first semifinal between the Toronto Six and Boston Pride. The second semifinal is slated for 8 P.M. ET between the Minnesota Whitecaps and Connecticut Whale. The championship game will take place Saturday, March 27 at 7 P.M. ET. All three games will air live on the NBCSN.