The National Women’s Hockey League will crown a champion this year after all, as the league has announced that it will conclude the Isobel Cup Playoffs at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, Massachusetts, later this month.

NWHL Isobel Cup Playoffs
The NWHL will conclude its Isobel Cup Playoffs later this month at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, Massachusetts. (Image: Michelle Jay)

Four teams will compete in semifinal games on March 26, with the winners facing off in the Isobel Cup Final the next day.

NWHL bubble bursts before semifinals

NBC Sports Network will broadcast all three games of the playoffs.

The NWHL attempted to run a tournament for its six teams in a bubble environment at Lake Placid earlier this year. Two teams dropped out during the course of the competition, and the league halted the tournament just before the playoffs began on Feb. 3.

Due to limited resources, the NWHL couldn’t enforce the kind of true bubble that leagues like the NBA and NHL put together last year. Teams shared the same hotel and were allowed to bring in replacement players from outside when needed. In addition, there was evidence that teams left their hotels to socialize in the area during the competition.

“We had a pretty tight protocol in place,” NWHL commissioner Tyler Tumminia told The Associated Press. “It was the enforcement, in my mind. It’s going to take a deeper collaborative effort from the teams’ accountability and leadership, player accountability, and league accountability.”

The Isobel Cup Playoffs won’t resume straight from where they left off in Lake Placid. The NWHL added the Connecticut Whale to the playoffs, replacing the Buffalo Beauts. Connecticut withdrew from the tournament after posting a 2-2 record, while Buffalo had gone 1-5 in the bubble.

In the new pairings, the Whale will face the Minnesota Whitecaps in the 2 vs. 3 semifinal matchup. The decision restores the matchup that would have taken place had Connecticut not withdrawn from Lake Placid.

Players, fans ready for long-awaited championship

In the other semifinal, the top-seeded Toronto Six will take on the No. 4 seeded Boston Pride. Boston went 23-1 in the 2019-2020 NWHL season, but never got a chance to win the title that year, as the NWHL canceled the Isobel Cup Final early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What matters most for us is to finish this, raise the cup, and have a championship and give these athletes a chance to make history and finish what they started,” Tumminia said. “They haven’t raised the cup in two years, so this is a very emotional thing for them.”

No fans will attend the Isobel Cup Playoffs at Warrior Ice Arena, Boston’s home stadium. The NWHL attracted plenty of fan interest on Twitch during the Lake Placid bubble, accumulating more than 1.6 million live views over the 15 games.

It’s not clear if all players will be able to participate in the semifinals, however. Toronto coach Digit Murphy noted that some of her players may not be willing to serve another 14-day quarantine on return to Canada, a requirement if they travel to the United States.

“Some of our players are not going to be able to come because of the quarantine,” Murphy told the CBC. “These guys have to work. We’ll do it with what we have. We’ll be the T6 and overcome adversity.”