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NWHL expansion Toronto Six head to Lake Placid women's hockey bubble

·3 min read

Digit Murphy has delivered the famous Herb Brooks speech to the Toronto Six.

The NWHL expansion team's head coach invoked the words of the late Miracle on Ice coach in a social-media video.

But if the Six lift the Isobel Cup in Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., the women will have beaten odds as the U.S. men's team did in upsetting the Soviet Union for Olympic hockey gold in the same building in 1980.

The Six play their first NWHL games in Lake Placid starting Saturday.

COVID-19 restrictions in Toronto limited the Six to fewer team practices than their more established American competition, Murphy said.

"We've had maybe six or seven practices together," Murphy told The Canadian Press.

"We're a brand new franchise doing everything during COVID. We don't even know what the other teams look like. We have no idea how fast they are.

"If we win, this is definitely going to be Miracle 2.0. We're preparing for the real miracle and the Canadians win."

The Six kick off the NWHL's compressed season against the Metropolitan Riveters in the first game of Saturday's tripleheader.

The Six, Riveters, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale, Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps play each other in a round robin, followed by a playoff round to determine Isobel Cup semifinalists.

The semifinals Feb. 4 and championship game Feb. 5 will be broadcast on NBCSN.

The WNBA and National Women's Soccer League kept professional female athletes competing in 2020 despite the global pandemic by running competition hubs with certain restrictions to avoid the spread of the virus.

The NWHL, which pays annual salaries reportedly up to $15,000, didn't crown a 2020 champion in its fifth season because of the pandemic.

The sixth season will consist of 24 games over 14 days with no spectators in Lake Placid. The players will be tested daily among other COVID-19 precautions.

"I think a lot of people are looking at us to see how we navigate this," said Six defender Emma Greco of Burlington, Ont.

"We have a lot of eyes on us. It's really important for us to compete in the bubble especially because the finals and the semifinals are going to be on NBC Sports, which is a huge deal.

"If we can pull this off, professionally, safely, it will send a big message to everyone about women's ice hockey."

Six forward Emma Woods of Burford, Ont., will play her first games since February, 2020, when she was a member of Sweden's Leksand IF club.

"It's been a while," Woods said. "We're all extremely grateful to have the opportunity to even be on the ice right now. Most teams aren't aside from the pros.

"It's a great thing for women's hockey. We all want to grow the game. I think the bubble is kind of putting us on that platform and giving us the chance to do that."

A two-week tournament plus the required 14-day quarantine upon return to Canada is a significant time commitment for Six players.

Players under contract will be paid their full salaries despite the condensed schedule and players who opt out will also be paid their salary, the NWHL has said.

The Six travelled by bus to Lake Placid on Thursday. The majority of the roster is Canadian NCAA Division 1 alumni with some who also played in the defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League.

Most of Canada's national team players are affiliated with the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association and currently attending a camp in Calgary.

The PWHPA has yet to schedule games or tournaments involving Canadians this season.

A PWHPA all-star team of Americans, including 11 from the 2018 Olympic team, capped a two-week tournament against men's junior teams in Tampa, Fla., this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 21, 2021.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press