The IX: Hockey Friday with Erica L. Ayala, February 5, 2021

COVID stalls NWHL Final once again — Ty Tumminia Press Conference — Must-click women's hockey links

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COVID stalls NWHL Final once again

I’m so tired of talking about COVID and sports, yet here we go. It’s maddening, truly, to have this conversation over and over again.

I can make no sense of how nonchalant we’ve become about positive cases. It’s like we’re being made to believe this isn’t a big deal. Over 400,000 dead in the United States due to a highly contagious virus is a BIG DEAL!

What’s more upsetting is the NWHL seemed content to omit or ignore specific COVID questions leading up to, during, and certainly now after the single site season. In a conversation with NWHLPA director Anya Packer, I asked how the league would handle COVID and if they would have alternates (I guess in hockey this is called a taxi squad).

Anya was the first person to mention that if a team did not meet a minimum threshold of healthy players, they would be eliminated from contention. When I asked the league to confirm this, I was told the league would not announce the minimum or anything “negative like that”.

I found this a very odd response. I repeat, COVID is highly contagious and sports have essentially accepted positive cases where a when & now many, not an if.

Needless to say, the absolute lack of concrete communication during the Lake Placid season was not surprising, but was extremely frustrating. While I don’t expect a league or team to announce the names of the players with inconclusive or even positive tests, I do expect them to accurately report the number of cases.

As you will read further down, Ty Tumminia said the Riveters had 10 cases. She reported so on Wednesday as if that news was already known. It wasn’t.

At one point, it was reported that the Connecticut Whale withdrawing on their own had nothing to do with COVID-19. It has since been reported that COVID was a huge factor.

Generally speaking, there are a fair amount of… alternative facts or one-sided opinions a reporter must sift through for a story. But the misinformation or lack of information regarding such an important topic is a huge blemish on the NWHL. It clouds the goodwill of new sponsors, high streaming numbers, and other individual stories of triumph.

Is the NWHL alone in this? Well, yes and no.

As I tweeted, most every other league I cover reports the number of cases or even inconclusive tests that lead to a schedule change. The NWHL was to be blunt, terrible at presenting COVID updates and information.

However, the NWHL must realize six seasons in — and especially after salary cuts, a boycott, an unexplained leadership transition, and a Barstool Sports scandal — that ignoring the questions and the narrative is unacceptable.

And yet, apparently the league did not and for that they very much created a narrative that is less about hockey and more about leadership and transparency. To what extent this fall on Ty Tumminia is, unfortunately for her, irrelevant. My take: Ty cannot communicate nor enforce COVID protocols on her own.

Were there enough stringent COVID policies? Were they properly communicated to teams? We already know they weren’t communicated to media. Did team leadership properly enforce COVID protocols? Were players/staff in violation of protocol dealt with?

The NWHL has used the word “suspended” in reference to Season 6. In the final media availability of the season, Tumminia said,

“I’m really proud. Yes, we didn’t raise the Cup. I also will say it doesn’t mean we’re not going to raise the cup for season six. But at this moment today, we will not be raising the Cup tomorrow. And the fact that we didn’t get these athletes on their deserved and due platform on NBC. That’s the most heartbreaking part to me.”

As someone who was set to call the Isobel Cup Playoffs for the Twitch audience (and who was on the call for the 2020 Isobel Cup Final), I must admit I would love to see the game rescheduled. However, not if the league can’t get its shit together regarding COVID protocols.

The lack of answers coming from the league is unacceptable.

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This Week in Women’s Hockey

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Must-Click Links

WCHA commissioner Jennifer Flowers commits to the #GetUncomfortable pledge hosted by Black Girl Hockey Club.

NWHL suspends season amid rising numbers of COVID cases in #NDubble.

Connecticut Whale head coach Colton Orr describes his team COVID positive tests as multiple and growing.

“Out of safety of our staff, players, and of the league, we felt we had no choice but not to play,” Orr said. “And even after that, we still had new cases coming in.”

A glimpse into how the PWHPA and NWHL approached the 2021 season.

Renee Hess joins Tara Slone on Top of HER Game.

PWHPA and New York Rangers announce Dream Gap Tour stop at MSG.

NCAA proposes single site for women’s ice hockey tournament.

Today marks exactly one year from the start of the 2022 Winter Olympics! Hailey Salvian and I project the Olympic rosters for Hockey Canada and USA Hockey.

NHL on NBC invited Saroya Tinker, Blake Bolden & me to chat with Anson Carter and Kathryn Tappen about being Black women in hockey. Watch the full interview here.

Tweet of the Week


Five at The IX: NWHL talks to media about suspended season

Here are some excerpts from the final media availability from the #NDubble in Lake Placid. However, there are still many questions and some glaring discrepancies that need to be further investigated.

The full transcript can be found here courtesy of Mike Murphy and The Ice Garden.

Tyler Tumminia: Hi, good evening, everyone. Obviously, it’s with great sadness, a broken heart from the league that we are here today. And unfortunately, we didn’t get to the end zone here of breaking history and making history and with having our athletes on the network [NBC Sports]. I want to first make sure I thank all of the staff and employees at Lake Placid Olympic Center, ORDA, and state department [of health], and everyone that we had to deal with on the business end of stuff. Our sponsors as well, in order to support us and make what we still believe is quite a successful turn of events in the last 12 days.

Of course, I couldn’t do it without our board of governors, our owners. Anya [Packer] and her help with the [NWHL] Players Association, our coaches, our staff, and our players.

We still are very, very excited and thrilled about what happened here in Lake Placid. And what this meant to women’s hockey overall.

Granted, we didn’t get it to [be broadcast] the network. But we are still thrilled. The strides in brand, in awareness, and what we were able to do with this league, which I feel has been unprecedented in the last couple of weeks in our growth, again, very heartbroken. We didn’t get onto the network. But safety has always been our first priority. I do feel we made the right decision.

So instead of putting our athletes, our staff, as well as ORDA and their staff at risk continuing, it was in our best interest to suspend.

Erica Ayala: Thank you. First, I would actually like to hear, Anya, if you had a statement that you’d like to offer to everyone after being able to hear the coaches and then for Ty, if you could maybe describe — you had two teams that essentially dropped out before the league decided to suspend activity. Can you walk us through the difference of approach between the Riveters being disqualified and the Connecticut Whale essentially opting to not continue? Thank you.

Other NWHL coaches/staff make a statement and then take questions from the media

Anya Packer: I’ll start quickly, Ty, then I’ll pass it over to you. I want to echo everyone’s thoughts and sentiments. But from the Players Association, naturally, we always are going to advocate for the well-being and safety of our players. We stuck by a very strict protocol and, you know, there’s human error. And so for us, it took constant conversation with the league head office with Tyler, with the players, with the board of governors to make sure that our players were safe.

So from my standpoint, I’m here to represent the player voice, and also answer any questions that might come our way. But know that we were in lockstep and we work very closely with Tyler and her organization to ensure that the players were treated at the highest level.

Tyler Tumminia: Just to comment on two different varying reasons as to why the two teams left. The first team leaving: we had a designated threshold of what that looked like approved, going into the bubble, of when we would make a decision when a team would be out because of the COVID risk, or the numbers of COVID.

So as it’s been stated, the numbers were for the Riveters when they first came in a couple of days. There was no other option for them. They had to be removed from the bubble. In regards to Connecticut, I believe they came out with a statement today which the league supports. If they at any time — with the coaches or players since it was a team-level decision or their owners at the team-owner level — said that … they would like to opt out, the league fully supported that.

It’s kind of what we said at the beginning of the bubble, right? We gave everybody the option, and we also gave them the acknowledgment of saying this is a risk, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, they were under full knowledge coming into this bubble, like all sports leagues are experiencing. Unfortunately, we have now been trapped into what other sports leagues are experiencing as well. This is a no joke, this pandemic, we’re right in the middle of it, and if … doesn’t care.

So the one major thing from a league standpoint, which we’ve always stood by, was a player has to feel safe, that they would like to proceed forward. We would have never, from a league standpoint, [have] told any team or any player that they had to be here. With that said, as much as you guys all know, the league still stands by their statement that anybody that did opt-out, we are still honoring their full contract.

Erica Ayala: Ty, can you maybe just talk a little bit more about that threshold number? I don’t think that was ever explicitly shared. But how many players would the Riveters have needed to continue on in the tournament?

Tyler Tumminia: Well, for that threshold, it’s a little bit unique. Right? So it’s been out there that it was 10, I think, that we had positive cases. That would have been a little bit hard to complete that roster going forward, that bench. So yeah, that threshold was determined between us and ORDA. And that they didn’t meet that threshold. So, therefore, they had to exit out.

Hannah Beavis: Hi, this first question is for Anya and then potentially the coaches if it’s relevant, you think it could answer. We’ve seen with the Whale that some players weren’t comfortable staying in the bubble, with positive tests. So Anya, how were you able to stay in contact with players from different teams who may have felt that their safety was compromised? And same for the coaches? Pete, I know you touched on this a bit earlier?

Anya Packer: Yeah, I think it’s the most important that we live in a technology-filled world. So it’s regular cadence, whether that be through, you know, ‘Hey, guys, pick up your phone, let’s get on a FaceTime, or let’s get on Zoom.’ So, you know, anytime we had any varying degree of conversation, whether that be a question for clarity, or a raised concern, the PA steps in very swiftly.

We have our two reps per team, and those reps will funnel to myself. And then that data then goes from myself to Ty. So we created a pretty seamless process through our PA, and how those athletes communicate amongst each other, and then elevated through me. So there were a few meetings that were, you know, spun up pretty quickly.

But, to your point, the most important thing is to understand the level of risk, to communicate back what medical [guidance] or advice we’re getting from all angles, and then share that with the players. And then obviously allow them to make the decisions that they feel the most comfortable with, because a certain level of risk is always going to be assumed in this world right now, unfortunately. But the players know that their PA stands very firmly with them. So that was how we processed and how we move forward. And it opened a lot of conversations for us. And in doing that it also helped us share data across the line over with the league head office, as well.

Digit Murphy: Hey, I just want to say that coming into the bubble from where we were in complete lockdown in Canada, was a huge risk for us.

Our players had no problem coming in, we felt 100 percent safe, and all we wanted to do was play the game. We would’ve died if we could play the game, we would have died if we could have played against Minnesota. Our kids just wanted to play hockey. They were safe. They were looked after. And we knew when we came in, it was huge — we’re going from like 100 cases to 100 million cases. But we wanted to play, so we’re here. We’re bummed. But we want to come back.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon Freelance Tennis Writer
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Fridays: Hockey
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Written by Erica L. Ayala