What it’s like to prepare for the NWHL bubble season in Lake Placid


A first look at the NWHL's ice in Lake Placid. (Photo from MStyle Marketing)

Lindsay Eastwood is a rookie blueliner on the Toronto Six, the NWHL’s newest franchise. She’ll be blogging for Sportsnet throughout the league’s bubble season, taking place from Jan. 23 to Feb. 5.

The 2020–21 hockey season has had some turbulence, but we are now days away from a historical NWHL bubble season in Lake Placid, N.Y.

When I signed with the Toronto Six in June, I had no doubt that we would hit the ice in November to kick off the season. Boy, was I ambitious. As the months wore on, I started to become more skeptical of a season actually happening this year.

I got to witness first-hand the NHL pull off a COVID-free bubble working as a correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times in the Eastern Conference bubble. I must admit, the thought of an NWHL bubble season crossed my mind often. I thought the only way we — as the only Canadian team in the league — were going to be able to play this season was in a bubble in order to not have to go back and forth across the border. However, I didn’t know how feasible that was for our league.

When we were asked by the Toronto Six staff for our thoughts on playing in a bubble this season, I almost couldn’t believe it. The idea of actually lacing up this season was moving from dream to reality. The concept of the bubble soon came to life, and before I knew it I was opting in to play. Commissioner Ty Tumminia took everything into consideration — day jobs, travel and, most importantly, our safety. We were even promised our full salary if we opted to not play, so there was no pressure for the players and staff.

Needless to say, I was pumped. We’re getting to participate in history. Knock on wood – this is the only time we will ever have a season like this. After watching the success of the WNBA and NWSL bubbles, and seeing the growth for their sports through television ratings and social media, I am excited to see where this takes the NWHL. The recipe for growing women’s sports is essentially exposure and high-quality performance. This bubble season being condensed is an incredible opportunity for the NWHL to now take on the spotlight.

With no fans in attendance, the league and teams have had to get creative with how they connect with the audience. Fans will be able to support their teams by signing up to have a cardboard cut-out of them in the stands and they will also receive autographs in the mail. All games will be streamed online, so there is an opportunity for everyone and anyone to watch and support no matter where they reside. During a tough year with not much to look forward to, this bubble season brings me a lot of excitement, and I hope it brings that same excitement to the fans.

But it also brings me some nerves.

When they announced the bubble, that meant I had to start really kicking it into gear on and off the ice. Having a set date for when the puck will drop really motivated me to pick up the pace as it gave me something to train for. Although, every hockey player knows that while you can be in the best shape of your life off the ice, nothing compares to being in shape on the ice. The only way to be game ready is lots of ice time and to actually play games.

Those of us here in Toronto really felt that turbulence, not being able to have full team practices for the majority of the off-season.

As if being a rookie to the league, adjusting to the pace and the level of play wasn’t going to be hard enough — I’m nearing almost 11 months since I played in an actual hockey game. The thing is, though, that everyone is in the same position regarding games played. We will all be counting on our hockey instincts come game one in the bubble.

With that being said, finally getting to feel that adrenaline of playing in a competitive game again is what I’m most looking forward to. That’s a rush that just doesn’t get old for me. Especially playing against a good rival — this year for me that will be the Metropolitan Riveters, as two of my former teammates and good friends, Allie Olnowich and Brooke Avery, play for them.

The fact that we will be playing in the legendary Herb Brooks Arena sums up this entire season – a miracle. I have only ever seen the arena in the Disney film, Miracle on Ice, which makes me that much more excited to play this season. Given its history, any hockey player would be honoured play there.

This is an event I am extremely proud to be a part of as I know how hard the league has worked to put it on. As someone who can recall blowing out candles on her eighth birthday wishing to play professional hockey one day, this season is definitely not how I envisioned it, but it’s a special one at that. Here’s to my first season as a professional hockey player, bubble style!

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