On the day before its playoff semifinals were scheduled to air on national television, the National Women's Hockey League has suspended its season because of Covid-19 concerns, the league said Wednesday.
"The NWHL and the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) have agreed, due to new positive COVID-19 tests and the resulting safety concerns for the players, their respective staff and the community that the remainder of the 2021 NWHL season and playoffs in Lake Placid have been suspended," the league said in a statement.
It has been an extremely tough day for all of our #Beauts players and staff. We really wanted to make Buffalo proud and show our very best for our sport. We look forward to seeing our fans and our community sometime soon. We miss all of you! Be well, be safe and GO BEAUTS! 💙— Buffalo Beauts (@BuffaloBeauts) February 3, 2021
The league had been attempting a "bubble" season over a two-week period in Lake Placid, but instead, it will be the the second consecutive year that Covid-19 will prevent an Isobel Cup winner from being crowned. Though the league used the term "bubble" in a news release describing its plans, interim commissioner Tyler Tumminia switched to "restricted access environment" during a news conference Wednesday.
"They were restricted in the sense that they went from their room right to the rink, rink right to the room," she told reporters. "That's how we defined it."
Tumminia said that there will be a full assessment and evaluation of protocols and policies in hopes of learning from the situation.
The cancellation denies the league its opportunity at national television exposure. The Isobel Cup semifinals and finals had been scheduled to be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
"I actually see it as a success. It was 12 hours away from history. It's really frustrating and breaks my heart," she said. "We saw a lot of hard work and grit. I'm very proud of getting to this point."
The Connecticut Whale pulled out of the season Monday before its scheduled game against Minnesota. That made that night's game between the Buffalo Beauts and Boston Pride a game for seeding, rather than an elimination game. The league did not confirm the Whale’s departure was illness-related, and said only that it accepted the decision to forfeit a game and withdraw.
The Whale's decision followed that of the Metropolitan Riveters, who withdrew on Jan. 28. Tumminia said the league had a specific threshold for positive tests that would force a team to withdraw and the league had no choice as the Riveters registered positives. She said they had 10 positive tests.
On Wednesday, Boston Pride coach Paul Mara told the Boston Globe that he and five other members of the organization tested positive. The league has said they will not name anyone who tested positive.
NWHL players association chief Anya Packer told reporters that the players are taking part in contact tracing to try to find how the Covid-19 spread began.
"At this point, we're investigating internally," she told reporters.
The Beauts were scheduled to play Toronto on Thursday, and Boston and Minnesota were scheduled to play in the other semifinal.
"Unbelievably disappointed," Beauts coach Pete Perram told reporters. "We wanted to play there ... we wanted to play Toronto tomorrow night. We had one-on-one meetings with each player last night, just mental health checks to make sure everyone was up."
On Twitter, the Beauts left a message for their fans: "It has been an extremely tough day for all of our Beauts players and staff. We really wanted to make Buffalo proud and show our very best for our sport. We look forward to seeing our fans and our community sometime soon. We miss all of you! Be well, be safe and GO BEAUTS!"
The end of the NWHL bubble experiment came on the same day that the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association announced it will play a game at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28. The PWHPA is made up of 125 of the sport’s biggest stars, including those on the U.S. and Canadian national teams, who banded together in the hopes of forcing the creation of a new pro league.