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The bubble has burst on NWHL season – The Globe and Mail



A view of NWHL signage outside of Herb Brooks Arena after it was announced that the NWHL suspended its season due to COVID-19 on Feb. 3, 2021 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The National Women’s Hockey League abruptly ended its Isobel Cup season in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Wednesday night just as the playoffs were set to begin – the latest blow for the women’s game battling to grow its professional future.

As positive cases of COVID-19 mounted and two of its six teams had already left, the NWHL stopped its bubbled tournament because of health concerns the night before the semi-final games were set for a big new TV audience on NBCSN.

Instead of readying for Thursday’s semis and Friday’s final of the two-week-long tournament at historic Herb Brooks Arena, NWHL staff and teams were coping with an unspecified number of positive COVID-19 cases and figuring out how to get everyone home safely.

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“We were not trending in the right direction,” interim commissioner Tyler Tumminia said of test results, which ultimately led to the decision. “Our actual numbers per se were not alarming in comparison to the scope of other sports clubs or other sports leagues. However, if you project a number that was going to happen, it doesn’t make sense for us.”

The NWHL worked with Yale University to provide COVID-19 testing for players and staff at the first women’s pro hockey games since the pandemic hit in March. Even that couldn’t keep the virus out, and as Toronto Six owner Johanna Neilson Boynton said, “We knew going in it was a gamble.”

“We stuck by a very strict protocol, and there’s human error,” NWHL Players Association executive director Anya Packer said.

It ends the NWHL’s emotional ride in Lake Placid.

The highs there looked promising. On Jan. 30 the league’s Twitch stream had an impressive 1.37 million views; there was a new sponsorship deal with Discover; and broadcasts were set for NBC Sports. The teams wore Stop Racism patches and passionately advocated for Black Lives Matter.

But then the lows. The league had a public war of words with U.S. sports blog BarStool Sports. The New Jersey-based Metropolitan Riveters left the bubble last week because of positive cases – Tumminia said they had 10, which more than the allowable threshold. And on Monday, the NWHL said – at game-time – that the Connecticut Whale were forfeiting their 5:30 p.m match with the Minnesota Whitecaps and withdrawing from the bubble. Neither the league nor the Whale gave a reason for the team’s departure.

The Boston Pride and Buffalo Beauts – who played each other later that night – faced the media at their post-game virtual news conferences and were hit with questions about what they were told regarding the Whale. “I have no idea, that’s way, way above my pay grade,” Buffalo Beauts head coach Pete Perram said.

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Connecticut rookie Kayla Friesen told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday night that she had fun at the start of the tournament. She loved playing again, being with her team, bringing attention to the great skill in the women’s game and seeing the NWHL grow its audience and fan engagement. She said the Connecticut team wanted to postpone the Monday game until after their team had received results of their most recent COVID-19 tests.

“That sadly wasn’t an option for the league, which resulted in us having to step away from this season,” Friesen said. “I do think there could have been things done differently … so this could have played through safer and we could have gotten to the end.”

The players, most of whom have full-time jobs, arrived in Lake Placid just a day or two before the games began. Teams had quarantined in their cities and were tested before they left, again when they arrived and regularly once inside. They isolated in their rooms, many of them working during the day and playing games at night. They did call a small number of taxi-squad players into the bubble to replace injured athletes.

“We didn’t get to the finish line,” Toronto Six coach Digit Murphy said. “The bubble burst. Our owners, everyone, put so much time, energy, effort into this. We didn’t get there, we didn’t make the history, but our players are pumped that potentially we come back at some point.” The expansion Six finished with the league’s best record at 4-1-1 and were to play in Thursday’s semi-finals.

Tumminia – an experienced sports executive who had been on the job only 10 weeks – and Packer said the league is doing contact tracing to stop the spread and help determine how COVID-19 got in.

“We didn’t raise the Cup. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to raise the Cup for Season 6,” Tumminia said. “The fact that we didn’t get these athletes on their deserved and due platform on NBC, that’s the most heartbreaking part.”

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Some other news broke on Wednesday too that further accentuates the gaping divide between the NWHL and the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHPA) – a coalition of elite players formed after the sudden collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2019 who refuse to play in a female pro league until it pays them a living wage. The two groups have the same goal but are working in two different directions.

The PWHPA announced it will collaborate with the NHL’s New York Rangers to host the first showcase game of their 2021 Dream Gap Tour later this month at Madison Square Garden – the first female pro game at the famous arena in New York City.

The PWHPA provided few details on exactly which of their 125 players will play in New York. Will Canadian players cross the border for that showcase? Will they bubble? Will fans attend? What will they do to assure COVID-19 doesn’t get in?

With a report from The Canadian Press.

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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now



The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season –



It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics



(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.


(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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