Jack Brodt didn't find any miracles in Lake Placid. The Minnesota Whitecaps coach took his team to that fabled New York town in January to pursue a National Women's Hockey League (NWHL) championship, and all he got was an interrupted season, an early trip home and a positive COVID test.
He's hoping for better luck in Boston, where the Whitecaps finally will start the NWHL playoffs Friday. Seven weeks after COVID put the postseason on hold, Brodt and his team — minus two key players — will make a quick trip back East to try and retain the Isobel Cup they won in 2019. Should the Whitecaps beat Connecticut in Friday's semifinals, they would play the winner of the Toronto-Boston semifinal in the championship game Saturday at Warrior Ice Arena.
The NWHL announced March 8 it would conclude the season this weekend, and at least three teams won't have all their players available. Whitecaps defensemen Sydney Baldwin and Emma Stauber will not make the trip because of work commitments, but another top blueliner, Amanda Boulier, will join the team after missing the regular season.
It's not an ideal situation. But after everything that's happened this season, getting the chance to become the NWHL's first repeat winner feels like a relief, if not exactly a miracle.
"When we get there, the adrenaline is going to be so high," defenseman Winny Brodt Brown said. "It's going to be an intense game. It's going to be whoever's ready to play at the drop of the puck."
Jack Brodt said he "would just as soon put a stick in my eye" rather than return to the semi-bubble setup that imploded in Lake Placid. The NWHL brought its six teams there for a 14-day, pandemic-delayed season that was to have run from Jan. 23-Feb. 5. But its protocols were not stringent enough to prevent the spread of COVID, and the Metropolitan Riveters and Connecticut Whale both withdrew before the playoffs were postponed on the eve of the semifinals.
The Whitecaps went 3-1 in Lake Placid and were assigned the No. 2 seed for the playoffs. Toronto got the No. 1 seed with a 4-1-1 record. Buffalo replaced No. 3 seed Connecticut (2-2) after the Whale withdrew, but when the playoffs were rescheduled, the league's board of governors gave the spot back to the Whale.
In addition to Brodt — who had to drive back to Minnesota after his positive test in Lake Placid — two Whitecaps players also tested positive. Brodt experienced only mild symptoms, and he said his team is "pretty healthy and ready to go."
The Whitecaps will be without Baldwin, whom Brodt called their best all-around player, and Stauber, a late scratch. Stauber coaches the Proctor/Hermantown girls' hockey team (18-0), which will play in the high school Class 1A state tournament this weekend. Connecticut assistant coach Laura Brennan said "a couple" of her players opted out of the playoffs, and Toronto will be without two who could not get time off from their jobs.
Baldwin helped drive a Whitecaps power play that led the NWHL with a 26% success rate. Brodt said that will change the power play substantially, but Boulier should provide some relief. The coach of Duluth Marshall girls' team, she did not play during the regular season because of work commitments; last season, she was the Whitecaps' third-leading scorer with 27 points in 22 games.
"It's going to be an issue, but what are you going to do?" Brodt said. "You've got what you've got. We're not going to be able to replace Syd, but we'll do the best we can."
That could be the motto for the weekend. The Whitecaps will have a tight travel schedule, arriving in Boston at 1:30 a.m. Friday and playing about 18 hours later. If they win, they will have 23 hours to prepare for the final.
Should they reach the championship game, Brodt Brown won't complain about the timing. The Whitecaps have waited more than a year to defend their 2019 crown, after the cancellation of their 2020 Isobel Cup final against Boston.
"No matter who we play," she said, "there are going to be a lot of emotions on the rink.''