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NWHL to squeeze ’21 season into 2-week bubble

The NWHL plans to hold its entire season — including the Isobel Cup playoffs — during a two-week span from Jan. 23 to Feb. 5 while in a bubble in Lake Placid, New York, the league announced Wednesday.

The NWHL’s six teams will each play five games, facing each team in the league once, followed by the Isobel Cup playoffs. All games will be played at Herb Brooks Arena, without fans in attendance, and participants will receive regular COVID-19 testing while following protocols established by infectious disease doctors at NYU Langone Health.

All players will receive their full compensation for the season despite the shortened schedule. Players were given the opportunity to opt out and still receive their full salaries, though 95% of players have committed to playing, according to the league.

The league, which is welcoming expansion club Toronto this season, initially planned for each team to play a full 20-game season beginning in January with the Isobel Cup playoffs completed in March. Teams began optional practices in September and officially started training in October.

“The continued challenges brought by the pandemic resulted in a mandate for our league, players and partners to collaborate on creating a controlled environment protecting the health of everyone involved,” said NWHL interim commissioner Tyler Tumminia, who replaced league founder Dani Rylan in October.

“At a time of hypergrowth for girls’ and women’s hockey, we see this season as a celebration of the sport. This will be a historic moment as the hallowed arena that was the site of the ‘Miracle on Ice’ in 1980 hosts its first women’s professional championship.”

This 2021 NWHL season remains subject to final agreement by the NWHL, the Olympic Regional Development Authority of New York and the state of New York. The league said it would release the complete schedule, as well as broadcast information, closer to the season.

The league’s six teams are expected to arrive at Lake Placid in a staggered schedule Jan. 21 and Jan. 22.

Last season’s Isobel Cup championship final, featuring the Boston Pride and the Minnesota Whitecaps, was scheduled for March 13, 2020. The game was postponed and eventually canceled due to the pandemic, and the league named the Pride and Whitecaps co-champions for 2020.

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