Though Jack Brodt tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, the Whitecaps general manager and co-coach said he wasn't experiencing any symptoms other than a mild headache. Then he got a second dose of bad news, when the National Women's Hockey League suspended its season on the eve of its playoffs.
The league announced Wednesday that the Isobel Cup semifinals and finals, set for Thursday and Friday in Lake Placid, N.Y., would not be held as scheduled because of positive COVID-19 tests. The Whitecaps were to play Boston in one semifinal, with Toronto facing Buffalo in the other. NWHL Commissioner Tyler Tumminia said the league still hopes to complete the season, though she did not set a timetable.
The NWHL began a 14-day, pandemic-delayed season Jan. 23 at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y. Two of its six teams, the Metropolitan Riveters and Connecticut Whale, dropped out early because of COVID issues. Tumminia said additional test results Tuesday night showed numbers "were not trending in the right direction," leading the league and the group that runs the arena to suspend the season.
"It's really frustrating, and it breaks my heart," Tumminia said. "This doesn't mean we're not going to raise the Cup for season six, but we will not be raising it [this week]."
Brodt said two Whitecaps players tested positive for the coronavirus, and he expects both will be OK.
Last year's Isobel Cup final between the Whitecaps and Boston was postponed and eventually canceled as the pandemic spread. Brodt would not have been behind the bench Thursday; because of his positive test, he left the Lake Placid bubble, and he had to drive home rather than fly.
His son Tony flew to New York to accompany his dad on the 19 ½-hour drive to Minnesota, and Brodt got word that play was suspended while they were traveling Wednesday afternoon.
"We just spent 12 or 13 days in total isolation to try and get to this point," Brodt said. "We were looking forward to it. We have a pretty good team. It's really a crushing blow."
In the Lake Placid bubble, Brodt said, players and team personnel were not allowed to go anywhere except the hotel and the rink. They were tested regularly, with the frequency eventually increased to daily tests.
The Riveters played three games before exiting the bubble Jan. 28 after several positive tests. On Monday, the Whitecaps were scheduled to play Connecticut, but the Whale did not show up and forfeited the game. Connecticut withdrew from the season Tuesday and later issued a statement saying, "When given the choice of competing vs. ensuring the physical and mental well-being of our team, we chose the latter."
The Whitecaps went 3-1 during the truncated season, winning their first three games before a 4-3 loss Saturday to Toronto. They were awarded the No. 2 seed for the playoffs, but Brodt is disputing that determination, saying the Whitecaps earned the No. 1 seed and will play Buffalo. An NWHL spokesman said the league "had no response" to Brodt's claim.
Though Tumminia said she couldn't comment on when the season might resume, Brodt speculated it could happen in about six to eight weeks. He expects the playoffs will be held in a city on the East Coast, in close proximity for the league's other five teams.
The suspension hit especially hard, Tumminia said, because the Isobel Cup semifinals and finals were scheduled to be televised live on NBCSN. According to the network, it would have marked the first time a women's professional hockey game was televised live on a major cable network in the U.S. But Tumminia said continuing the season might have put athletes and others at risk.
"Unfortunately, we didn't get to the end zone," she said. "We still are very, very thrilled about what happened here in Lake Placid, and what this meant to women's hockey overall. But safety has always been our first priority. I do feel we made the right decision."