Toronto Six fall to Boston Pride in delayed NWHL Isobel Cup semifinal
League makes long-awaited return in Boston following season's suspension on Feb. 3
The Toronto Six fell a game short of the Isobel Cup final in the hockey club's inaugural NWHL season, but head coach Digit Murphy feels her squad planted its flag for a future championship.
The Boston Pride advanced to Saturday's championship game with a 6-2 win over the Six in Friday's semifinal.
Boston will meet the Minnesota Whitecaps for the title after they beat the Connecticut Whale 7-0 in the other semifinal.
Both teams were set to meet in last year's Isobel Cup final which was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NWHL intended to complete a shortened regular season and the Isobel Cup between Jan. 23 and Feb. 5 at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y.
WATCH | Pride crush Six to reach NWHL final:
When the league suspended the season Feb. 3 because of several positive tests for the COVID-19 virus, the Six were 4-1-1.
Toronto was the top seed when the Isobel Cup resumed Friday in Boston.
Pandemic restrictions in Ontario limited the Six to half a dozen practices as a team before their NWHL debut in Lake Placid.
The Six won't hoist the Cup in the league's sixth season, but Murphy feels Toronto proved its talent in a challenging year. "In season seven, you watch out for the Toronto Six," the head coach said.
Call to work together
Murphy also called on the NWHL and the Professional Women's Hockey Players' Association to work together.
"We have to come together with the PWHPA and us to really work together to make women's hockey a household name because we're really, really, really good and everyone's better together," Murphy said.
"I know everyone's like, 'oh my God. She mentioned PWHPA.' I don't care.
"What I would love to see is the two leagues sit down, aggregate talent, aggregate sponsorship, aggregate leagues and do women's hockey for women's hockey."
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The NWHL, which pays annual salaries reportedly up to US$15,000, didn't crown a 2020 champion in its fifth season because of the pandemic.
Boston was the favourite last year with a 23-1 record in the regular season.
Tereza Vanisova, Jillian Dempsey, Mary Parker and McKenna Brand each had a goal and an assist for the Pride on home ice Friday at Warriors Ice Arena.
Mikyla Grant-Mentis of Brampton, Ont., led Toronto with a goal and an assist. Breanne Wilson-Bennett of Markham, Ont., also scored for the Six.
Six starter Elaine Chuli of Waterford, Ont., stopped 19-of-25 shots. She was replaced in the third period by Samantha Ridgewell of Outlook, Sask.
Six unable to re-establish momentum
After losing two straight to start their first season, the Six shook off their underdog status with four straight wins in Lake Placid to gain a semifinal berth.
Toronto wasn't able to re-establish that momentum in Boston. The Six were stymied on offence hitting a crossbar early in the first period and failing to convert a short-handed breakaway in the second.
"It's hard to come in one game and just figure out our stuff right away, especially when in Lake Placid it took us a game or two to get into it as well," Toronto's top scorer Grant-Mentis said.
"But Boston did come out hard. We had to match them and we didn't today."
The NWHL planned to run 24 games over 14 days in a "restricted access environment" in Lake Placid to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
The withdrawal of the Metropolitan Riveters and Whale by the 10th day — the Riveters citing several cases of the virus — had the league revamping the format on the fly before halting the competition on the eve of the semifinals.
'Definitely worth it'
The NWHL announced Friday no players or team personnel who travelled to Boston had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Toronto's players and staff face another mandatory two-week quarantine when they return to Canada, which they also served after coming back from Lake Placid.
"It's definitely worth it," Grant-Mentis said. "We definitely wanted to win. That's what our plan was to do.
"It sucks that we have to go back and quarantine for 14 days without a Cup. But I would have done it even if it was just like, a fourth-place game or something. It didn't matter. I just wanted to play hockey really."
NBCSN and NBC Sports' digital platforms are American carriers of Isobel Cup games, which are streamed on Twitch in Canada.
"This is huge being on NBC today, no matter the outcome, just for women's sports," Six captain Shiann Darkangelo said. "We're super-excited to have played this season at all."
With files from CBC Sports