The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, July 31, 2020

NWHL delays return to the ice — Interview with Shelly Picard — must-click women's hockey links

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NWHL pushes back Season 6 to January

On March 13, fans were expecting to see the Minnesota Whitecaps and the Boston Pride face-off for the 2020 Isobel Cup Final. The Pride was nearly undefeated, suffering their only loss of the season on the road to Minnesota. The Whitecaps were a team that had a less than polished start to the season but finished strong. The storyline alone was entertaining!

And then on March 11, the NBA announced it was suspending its season. A player tested positive for COVID-19 and the league shut down. For the NWHL and many others in sports, that was the definitive sign that Rona was real.

The 2020 Isobel Cup Final was never played and never will be. Now the league is looking forward to its sixth season. While the NWHL might have been content for a sign to postpone – and eventually cancel altogether – the season back in March, this time the league is taking initiative.

On Wednesday, the league announced the sixth season will begin in January 2021. Players will have optional workouts starting in September and mandatory camp starting in October. The season will be six weeks and run through March.

Deputy commissioner Michelle “Shelly” Picard told The IX the season will begin the weekend of January 9 and will run for 10 straight weeks. The league will not host an All-Star Game until after the conclusion of the 2021 Isobel Cup Final.

“This was definitely a big topic of conversation and we all love the All-Star game and also know how much the players and the fans and everyone look forward to this every year. It was really important for us to find a way to keep its as a part of our season,” Picard told The IX on Tuesday.

The plan is to have the All-Star Game scheduled in a matter that will ensure the players in the final can also compete in the festivities.

Overall, this announcement comes as a breath of fresh air amid the disaster that is the MLB season. Even the NWSL and WNBA return seemed to be premature and building out logistics as they went/go along.

My hope is that the NWHL front office will continue to spend time listening and learning from their women’s league counterparts, not their male counterparts. Not only because the scale is more complimentary, but because women have done it better.

I also hope this extends to how the NWHL discusses racism and inclusion in their league.

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This Week in Women’s Hockey

Reminder: First, the underlined words are the links. Second. CLICK these, even if you’ve already read them. Clicks = Attention from editors, producers, and webmasters.

Sonny Sachdeva spoke to Black women about racism in hockey. I was very grateful to be asked to contribute.

And if you don’t already know, my “Hire Black Women” quote was inspired by this infographic from Black Girl Hockey Club.

Seth Berkman on the NWHL plan. The kicker got me thinking about how much time spent away women’s hockey players have endured, particularly those on the USA and Canadian National Team. Between No Four Nations, No Worlds, and no word on summer/fall camps, this is a less than ideal situation as they approach one year out from the 2022 Winter Games.

Zoe Hickel joins the Ohio State coaching staff.

Hockey East intends to play 2020-21 season.

Tweet of the Week

I truly believe this and expect women’s hockey to do A LOT better!

Five at The IX: Shelly Picard

Michelle Picard began her first full year as NWHL deputy commissioner this offseason and what an offseason it has been. I spoke to Picard the night before the announcement that the NWHL plans to return to competition in January. Here is a snapshot into the league decision.

A season for the NWHL would usually start, whether you’re talking like a training camp or you know some preseason games, towards the end of September. That will not be the case for Season Six. What will be different this September, in particular?

So in September, we’re aiming to have optional team practices. Normally in September, that’s when the team starts practicing officially. So, because we’re not starting games until later, in September we’ve given a little bit more flexibility there. Those optional team practices are for players who are able to make the move at that time or living in the area, just to make sure that we’re providing that ice time when we normally would and that opportunity to train so players aren’t missing out on any opportunity to get better at their game. We are excited to be able to provide those opportunities starting in September, obviously, with the guidelines and all the safety measures that we’ll have in place. But the main changes in September is that those are going to be sort of optional for players who can be there, versus mandatory practices in September.

And then we move on to October, and that is when formal practices will begin. Is the expectation that anyone that has signed a contract at that point is expected to report. By October 19?

Correct. October 19 all teams should have all of their rosters there and they are gearing up for January, and in that time getting some preseason games in as well.

Okay, so now that will be different so it is, um, you know, a mandatory report, but there won’t be games as you mentioned until the top of the year 2021. How will that impact the pay structure that the athletes, particularly those who are returning, would be accustomed to?

We are planning on paying our athletes as normal and as expected.

Based on last year’s schedule, in November and December players would have two days of ice time and a max of two weekend games. Do you have a sense of what that schedule will look like? Is the league going to try and keep the athletes on the ice as to at that rate, leading up to January?

As the games and weekends. Those would be different from what a normal season would look like, but the practice schedule would be the same, getting them on the ice at least two times a week. We’re hoping to get the players on even more than that but at the very least two times a week on the ice. And some off-ice training as well.

These exhibition games will they be against the now six teams in the league? Will they be against some college teams that we’ve seen preseason? What is the league hoping will be some of the opportunities there?

We’re hoping to be able to schedule local games and obviously minimizing travel in that time and like you said we normally play against college teams but for them right now as well, they’re all trying to figure out how do they get their players to be able to play safely if at all. And so right now, we’re just staying in communication with them and if some of those opportunities for this year don’t work out, that’s the way this year might go.

In scheduling any of those games, we’re making sure that both of us, whoever that team might be, are on the same page about what safety regulations need to be in place and what each side is doing. And if both don’t agree or it doesn’t match what we need, then we wouldn’t pursue that opportunity.

We have games that are expected to start in 2021, as far as the rollout here, and also this will be a full season. So, how will the schedule be able to pack in a full season worth of games in three months’ time?

It’s going to be an exciting three months of nonstop action! Basically the idea is that every team plays Saturday & Sunday during those 10 weeks there and so you get a 20 game season with playoffs to follow.

In previous seasons, maybe one team would just play on a Saturday. We’re gonna get away from that in order to be able to get all the games. Every team plays Saturday and Sunday. We’re going from January 9, 10 weekends straight. Each of those 10 weekends all of our teams are playing.

If and when a player is not comfortable or doesn’t feel that with any health concerns that they or even someone in their immediate household and family has, what will those conversations be like with the player the Players Association and the league?
Yeah, I think the leagues definitely wants to be you know mindful and respectful of that and communicating with those players and navigating those as best as possible, but definitely wanting to be mindful and respectful of athletes and what they need.

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By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
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Written by Erica L. Ayala