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Don’t forget the great hockey we saw during the NWHL’s failed bubble

Two weeks ago, we said the National Women’s Hockey League season in Lake Placid gave us hope for the future while we slogged through the coronavirus pandemic. Little did we know that — at the same time we were putting those words on the page — things were unraveling fast at the professional hockey league’s “bubble,” and the season would end abruptly a week later.

The condensed season with six teams and no spectators began on Jan. 23 at the Olympic Center’s Herb Brooks Arena. When it was cut short by two days on Feb. 3 due to COVID-19 cases, it left us with an overall feeling of disappointment and a lot of questions.

The league’s reaction to media inquiries left us holding our questions in our hands with few answers. When the NWHL announced on Jan. 28 that the Metropolitan Riveters were dropping out of the tournament due to COVID cases, we were able reach the league’s spokesman, yet he wouldn’t answer many specific questions about the rules of the bubble. We were stonewalled.

Things got worse when we tried to reach league officials Feb. 2, a day after the Connecticut Whale forfeited a game and dropped out of the season. Neither NWHL nor Whale officials returned emails with questions about the decision.

After announcing that the league would suspend its season on Feb. 3, a day before the Isobel Cup’s playoff games were scheduled to begin, we still couldn’t get in touch with league officials. Instead, they held a virtual press conference in the evening but only took a handful of questions. It left reporters in shock that the NWHL wasn’t being transparent about what exactly took place during the bubble.

Furthermore, NWHL interim Commissioner Tyler Tumminia told reporters during the press conference that the bubble was “a success” because the league was so close to history.

“It was 12 hours away from history,” Tumminia said. “I gotta tell you, it’s just frustrating and it breaks my heart. I truly believe this was successful. We saw a lot of hard work and grit.”

In what world can this be called a success? From secrecy to how the bubble actually worked, lack of communication between the league and the media, multiple COVID-19 cases and the fact that the NWHL couldn’t successfully finish a 14-day season with only six teams doesn’t sound like a success.

Especially given that the National Basketball Association was able to successfully finish its own bubble with 22 teams between July and October last year at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. The National Hockey League (24 teams), Major League Baseball (30 teams) and the National Football League (32 teams) finished their altered 2020 seasons with pandemic-related changes, not without bumps along the way, and COVID cases. But they finished nonetheless.

We all like to look at the silver lining when something bad happens. And something bad did happen with the NWHL in Lake Placid. We’d still like to know what the bubble rules were and how well they were followed and enforced.

While the season itself was a bust, the only silver lining we can think of is what the teams actually came to Lake Placid to do in the first place: play hockey. And we saw some great, professional hockey in the Herb Brooks Arena.

So while we look for answers about how the 2021 NWHL season went awry, and how things can be improved for the future, let’s not forget the women who came to Lake Placid and gave us all they’ve got — some of the best hockey action in the country, perhaps even the world.