Six teams entered the National Women’s Hockey League bubble tournament in Lake Placid in hopes of winning the Isobel Cup. Now, just four remain in contention – and not just because it’s time for Thursday’s semifinal matchups.

NWHL bubble Isobel Cup
The Connecticut Whale withdraw from the NWHL bubble, leaving only four teams competing for the Isobel Cup. (Image: Michelle Jay)

Last Thursday, the Metropolitan Riveters withdrew from the tournament after several members of the organization tested positive for COVID-19.

Riveters ‘Heartbroken’ to Leave Tournament

The Riveters had jumped out to a 2-1 start and were in contention for a guaranteed playoff spot before they dropped out of the bubble.

“Our team is heartbroken to not have the chance to compete for the Isobel Cup,” Riveters coach Ivo Mocek said in a statement. “We wish the best to our respected opponents, and I assure you that the Metropolitan Riveters will be back to compete again for Season 7 for our fans and all of our amazing supporters.”

The NWHL organized its bubble tournament after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the Isobel Cup final at the end of the 2019-2020 season. Rather than hold an entire 2020-2021 campaign, the league decided on a short format in Lake Placid.

The tournament began with a planned round-robin between all six teams: the five existing franchises, and the expansion Toronto Six. After the round-robin, the top three teams would play another set of games to determine seeding, while the bottom three would compete for the final semifinal spot.

The league altered the format after the Riveters exited. While the top three teams – Toronto, the Minnesota Whitecaps, and the Connecticut Whale – would still compete for seeding, the Boston Pride and the Buffalo Beauts would play a best-of-three series for the fourth seed.

Four Teams Remain in NWHL Bubble

Buffalo won the first game of the series 2-1 on Saturday, with Boston taking Game 2 by a 6-0 score to force a rubber match.

But, before Monday’s Game 3, Connecticut withdrew from the tournament as well, forfeiting their final seeding game with Minnesota.

Jeff Marek of Sportsnet reported that the forfeit wasn’t related to COVID-19. However, the Whale had shared a hotel with the Riveters. Several Connecticut players missed the team’s Sunday night game, with the Whale adding four players to its roster in order to play. Toronto beat Connecticut 6-0 in that seeding matchup.

As a result, the series between Boston and Buffalo turned into a battle for the No. 3 playoff seed. The Pride won Game 3 by a 7-1 score, slotting them into a Thursday matchup with Minnesota. Buffalo became the No. 4 seed and will take on No. 1 Toronto in the other semifinal. The two winners will compete for the Isobel Cup on Friday.