by Bill Brophy
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association will be well-represented when the National Women's Hockey League begins its sixth season in a bubble on Jan. 23.
Like many things in the last year, this will be an unprecedented season. Because of safety concerns caused by COVID-19, the six-team league will play 24 games in a two-week tournament at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y.
There will be 21 WCHA alumnae playing or coaching in the tournament, which begins Saturday, Jan. 23 and concludes Feb. 5. The last three games — the two semifinals and the Isobel Cup final — will be televised on NBCSN and available on the NBC Sports app.
The Minnesota Whitecaps, who won the Isobel Cup championship in 2019, once again have the most WCHA representatives in the league. The Whitecaps boast 15 alums plus Coach Ronda Curtin Engelhardt and assistant coach Laura Slominski, who both played at Minnesota.
The Whitecaps are technically the reigning NWHL champions. They were scheduled to play the Boston Pride in the Isobel Cup final more than 300 days ago when COVID canceled the season. Since then the NWHL named a new commissioner – Tyler Tumminia succeeded founder Dani Rylan – and added an expansion team, the Toronto Six.
The league features 18 league alumnae and three coaches on five of the six teams. Former Ohio State defenseman Lisa Chesson won an Isobel Cup in 2018 and returns to Buffalo; previous Minnesota State player Laura Brennan is in her second year as an assistant coach at Connecticut; former Minnesota Duluth standout Jenna McParland who won a Clarkson Cup championship in the now-defunct Canadian Women's Hockey League plays at Toronto and Madison Packer, who scored over 100 points and won a NCAA title at Wisconsin, returns to the Metropolitan Riveters as one of the league's best players. Packer is a four-time all-star and the second all-time leading scorer with 42 goals and 85 points.
The Whitecaps have five former Minnesota players – Winny Brodt-Brown, a charter member of the team, her sister Chelsey Brodt-Rosenthal, Meghan Lorence, Nina Rodgers and Amanda Leveille, a two-time all-star who has won two Isobel Cups – three previous St. Cloud State players – Haylea Schmid, Meghan Pezon and Lisa Martinson – two former Minnesota Duluth players, Emma Stauber and Lynn Astrup, two former Bemidji State stars, Stephanie Anderson and Haley Mack, two previous Minnesota State players – Lauren Barnes and Sara Bustad, one former Wisconsin player – Maddie Rowe. Astrup, Mack and Rowe are rookies. All the rest of the returning Whitecaps, except Bustad and Rodgers, won championships with Minnesota.
The NWHL was founded in 2015 with four teams: the Boston Pride, the Buffalo Beauts, the Connecticut Whale, and the New York Riveters.
The Whitecaps were added to the league for the 2018–19 season, the first expansion for the league. The Whitecaps were not a brand-new team, however. Jack Brodt founded the team in 2004, and they played as an independent team, often against WCHA competition, until 2018. Brodt is still the general manager and the coach of the team.
The Toronto Six enter the bubble as the newest team in the league, set to place its first game against the Riveters at 12:30 p.m. CT on Saturday, Jan. 23.
This season will be played in a condensed two-week tournament due to the pandemic. The six teams began to arrive in Lake Placid on a staggered schedule on Jan. 21.
Starting Saturday, each team will play five games (one against each of the other squads). The NWHL will stream the first 21 games on their twitch channel.
After the round-robin schedule, a playoff round determines the four semifinal teams. The top seed faces the fourth seed, while the second takes on the third. They will be single-elimination games Feb. 4 and the 2021 Isobel Cup Final will take place on Feb. 5.
The league has announced an agreement with Yale University to provide saliva-based COVID-19 testing for players and staff.
It's the same tests used by the National Basketball Association in its quarantine bubble at DisneyWorld during the completion of the 2020 season. The NWHL is the first women's professional sports league to implement them and will work with Yale on an initiative that pairs saliva and nasal samples for dual testing purposes.
Here are the WCHA alums on NWHL rosters:
Buffalo: Lisa Chesson, Ohio State
Connecticut: Laura Brennan, Minnesota State (Assistant Coach)
Metropolitan: Madison Packer, Wisconsin
Minnesota: Stephanie Anderson, Bemidji State; Sara Bustad, Minnesota State; Chelsey Brodt Rosenthal, Minnesota; Haylea Schmid, St. Cloud State; Lisa Martinson, St. Cloud State; Meaghan Pezon, St. Cloud State; Lauren Barnes, Minnesota State; Emma Stauber, Minnesota Duluth; Winny Brodt Brown, Minnesota; Amanda Leveille, Minnesota; Nina Rodgers, Minnesota, Meghan Lorence, Minnesota; Haley Mack, Bemidji State; Maddie Rowe, Wisconsin; Lynn Astrup, Minnesota Duluth; and Kelsey Cline, Minnesota. Laura Slominski, Minnesota (Head Coach); Ronda Curtin Engelhardt, Minnesota, (Co-Head Coach)
Toronto: Jenna McParland, Minnesota Duluth