National Women's Hockey League suspends Isobel Cup playoffs after new positive COVID-19 tests

The National Women's Hockey League is suspending its Isobel Cup playoffs in Lake Placid, New York, due to "new positive COVID-19 tests and resulting safety concerns for players," it announced Wednesday.

The season, which started Jan. 23, has not been canceled. The league is holding out hope that the tournament could be finished at a later date.

NWHL commissioner Ty Tumminia said positive tests began coming in around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday and that the trends were "not heading in the right direction."

The decision to stop playing was made with input from the Olympic Regional Development Authority, which manages the Lake Placid facilities.

The NWHL had gathered its six teams in Lake Placid for a multiweek tournament and postseason. Two teams -- the Metropolitan Riveters and the Connecticut Whale -- had withdrawn from the tournament because of positive COVID-19 tests and concerns about further exposure.

The four remaining teams were scheduled to compete in the single-elimination Isobel Cup semifinals Thursday, followed by the Isobel Cup Final on Friday. Those games were scheduled to air on NBCSN, giving the NWHL the largest platform it has had in six seasons of operation.

"The fact that we didn't get these athletes on their deserved platform on [national television], that's the most heartbreaking part," Tumminia said.

Anya Packer, director of the NWHLPA, said the players were saddened by the end of the tournament but that "we are respecting the players' safety and well-being" by suspending the season.

The Riveters pulled out of the tournament this past Thursday, confirming multiple cases of COVID-19. The NWHL revised its schedule for the remaining teams: Connecticut, Boston, Buffalo, Minnesota and Toronto. On Monday, the Whale announced the forfeiture of a game against Minnesota and subsequently pulled out of the tournament due to concerns about being exposed to COVID-19.

Toronto Six president and coach Digit Murphy said other teams were concerned about the risks, but her team wanted to play.

"Coming into the bubble from where we were in complete lockdown in Canada was a huge risk for us," Murphy said. "Our players had no problem coming in. We felt 100 percent safe. All we wanted to do was play the game. We would have died if we could have played the game. We would have died if we could have played against Minnesota [for the Cup].

"Our kids just wanted to play hockey. They were safe. They were looked after. We knew when we came in, that it was a risk, because we were going from like 100 cases to 100 million cases. But we wanted to play. We're here. We're bummed. But we want to come back."

Sources told ESPN there had been concerns around the Lake Placid "restricted zone," enforcement of team personnel quarantines and social distancing before and during the tournament.

"It wasn't a true bubble," one source told ESPN. "A lot of error comes from [poor] communication."

The NWHL has not disclosed the players who have tested positive or the number of positive tests for each team, citing a privacy pledge with the players and privacy laws.

The suspension of play comes at an unfortunate time for the NWHL, as the league had seen significant audience growth in its streamed games on Twitch heading into the playoff games on national television.