Despite COVID shutdown, Coquitlam's Whitney Dove says 1st season of pro hockey was 'awesome'
National Women's Hockey League forced to suspend season with three playoff games remaining
Whitney Dove's rookie season in professional hockey didn't exactly unfold as planned.
Then again, the same can be said for every National Women's Hockey League player in 2021.
On Wednesday, one day before Dove's Buffalo Beauts were to face the Toronto Six in the Isobel Cup semi final, the NWHL pulled the plug on the season with just three playoff games remaining because of a growing number of COVID-19 cases.
"I mean, it was obviously tough news," said Dove, speaking from her hotel room in the NWHL's Lake Placid, New York, bubble.
"I think everyone would have liked to keep playing, but given the circumstances, it definitely was the right call."
Last spring, the 22-year-old defender from Coquitlam, B.C., wrapped up an outstanding career at Providence College in Rhode Island, before weighing offers from a couple of NWHL teams and one in Sweden.
Buffalo had one sure thing going for it that the others didn't: proximity to Canada.
"With the whole COVID thing ... I just felt more comfortable knowing that if I had to get home I could do that a bit easier from Buffalo," she said.
Happily, escaping north across the border wasn't necessary.
Dove moved to Buffalo in September, and then into the Lake Placid bubble last month with the five other NWHL teams for the pandemic-shortened two-week season.
In six games she recorded a single assist, 10 blocked shots and finished as a plus player.
Even with the premature ending, she says the experience was awesome.
"I was actually really happy with how I played," she said. "The girls are a bit bigger and stronger — I feel like I was sometimes getting hit around when usually I would be the one doing the hitting. But the speed of the game was definitely very similar to college."
In the bubble, all players had their own hotel room where they lived and ate alone. Still, Dove and her teammates found a way to socialize in a COVID-responsible manner.
"You obviously were not allowed to be in other people's rooms, but we all had a porch and we were on the same level. So, we would go out in our big jackets and talk to each other from across the way," she said.
Another highlight was looking up into the fan-less stands of the Herb Brooks Arena and spotting the smiling cardboard cutout of her father Rick, a former champion varsity wrestler at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
"In one game I was lining up for a faceoff and I knew where he was sitting so I looked up and gave him a little wave," she laughed.
As one of the few Black players in the game, Dove said she's never felt anything but welcome in hockey. That wasn't always the case in her early years, however, playing boys hockey with the Port Moody Panthers.
"It was less about me being Black and more so about being the only girl on a boys team — that was kind of the weird thing." she said. "It definitely toughened me up."
Part of the fallout of the NWHL season suspension is the unfortunate loss of a major broadcast audience for Dove and her fellow players.
In a historic agreement, NBC Sports had signed on to show the semifinals and final of the Isobel Cup live. It would have been the first time women's professional hockey aired on a mainstream U.S. cable network.
"It would have been really cool to get on TV and get that exposure for the women's game," she said.
"But even without that ... we got a lot of publicity on Twitter and a lot of people were watching [earlier games] on Twitch. So I think a lot of people that had never known about the league saw some of it."