BROOKLYN – In the NWHL’s continuing efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic while prioritizing the wellbeing of all players, staff, fans and the community, the league announced a timeline for the upcoming season.
The regular season will begin in January 2021, with each team playing a full season of 20 games, and the Isobel Cup Playoffs are expected to be completed by the end of March. The league will aim to hold its popular annual All-Star Game, but not until after the Isobel Cup Playoffs are completed.
Although regular season games will start in January, the NWHL and the league’s six teams will continue their focus on enhanced opportunities for player development starting in September 2020. Optional on-ice practices and off-ice training will be available for all teams and players beginning the week of September 21 and formal practices will begin the week of October 19. Throughout, NWHL teams will strictly adhere to the protocols established by infectious disease experts, the NWHL medical team and community officials in each market.
In April, the NWHL formed a COVID-19 Safety Committee to set forth a plan for a safe and strategic return-to-play plan. The committee is led by infectious disease and Sports Health experts, including doctors Andrew Feldman, MD, and Guillem Gonzalez-Lomas, MD, from NYU Langone Health, one of the top academic medical centers in the U.S. and an official NWHL partner. The committee also includes league executives and representatives of the NWHL Players’ Association. The committee’s principal priority has been formulating a plan that protects the well-being of all participants and fans.
“The Safety Committee has and will continue to prioritize NWHL player, staff, fan, and media safety above all else while adapting to the ever-changing COVID-19 situation,” said Dr. Gonzalez-Lomas, assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Health expert at NYU Langone Health. “We are eager to meet the challenge ahead and do our utmost to safely return the athletes to the sport they love.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a difficult and fluid situation, the league’s plans regarding in-season medical protocols, along with announcements regarding ticket availability and arena capacity for fans, will be made prior to the start of the season. In every step, decisions will be guided by the science and at the direction of doctors.
NWHL Players’ Association Statements
Anya Packer, NWHL Players’ Association executive director: “The NWHLPA is well-represented on the league’s COVID-19 committee. The PA has been included in all discussions in regards to player safety and league scheduling, and co-authored the overall return-to-play protocol. We feel our voices have been heard thus far and we will continue to ensure that the safety and well-being of the players is at the forefront of all discussions and formal protocols.”
Allie Thunstrom, Minnesota Whitecaps player, committee member: “We are undoubtedly eager to get back on the ice and can’t wait for the season to start. However, we also recognize the challenges everyone faces by the global health crisis, and we want to ensure that not only are we protected but our fans, media, coaches, support staff, and arena personnel are protected as well. The league has done an awesome job at including us in these discussions. While a slight delay to the start of the season is tough, I feel strongly that everyone’s safety and health will continue to be at the forefront of all decisions. We will continue to practice and train in accordance with state, provincial, and league guidelines. When the time comes, we will be ready to battle for the Isobel Cup in Season 6 and to play for the best fans in the world.”