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What you should know for the new NWHL season


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Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

Women’s pro hockey returns this weekend

The National Women’s Hockey League is set to open its sixth season on Saturday. Like everything else, it’s different this year. Here are the key points to know:

It’s been awhile. The last NWHL games took place on March 8, when the Boston Pride and the defending champion Minnesota Whitecaps won their Isobel Cup semifinals. You know what happened next, and the March 13 title game never took place. So Minnesota is still the reigning champ — 22 months after it won the Cup with an overtime goal vs. Buffalo.

They’re in a bubble. In an effort to avoid more coronavirus-related cancellations, all six teams have been relocated to a quarantined environment in Lake Placid, N.Y. Games will be played at the arena where the U.S. men’s team pulled off the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

It’ll be quick. The entire regular season and playoffs will be completed in just 14 days. The regular season consists of two parts. The first is a round robin in which the six teams play each other once. Then, each team plays two more games, with the matchups determined by the standings from the first part (the higher a team placed, the easier its opponents). When that’s over, the teams with the four best records in their seven regular-season games advance to the Isobel Cup semifinals on Feb. 4. The winners square off the next day in the Isobel Cup final, which is also a one-off.

There’s a Canadian team now. The season opener (Saturday at 1 p.m. ET) is also the inaugural game for the Toronto Six — an expansion team whose name works on so many levels. “The Six” is a nickname for Toronto, hockey teams have six players on the ice at a time, and this is the sixth team in a league that’s playing its sixth season. Canada had been without a women’s pro hockey team since the six-team Canadian Women’s Hockey League folded in the spring of 2019.

But you won’t see many of the world’s best players. Members of the Canadian and U.S. national teams refuse to play in the NWHL — or any other league — until their demand for a “single, sustainable” women’s league that pays a living wage and treats them like professionals is met (preferably by the NHL). In the meantime, they’re planning a second run of the barnstorming Dream Gap Tour launched last year. And the Canadian national team is currently gathered in Calgary for a 35-player camp. The women’s world championship is scheduled for April 7-17 in Halifax and Truro, N.S., after being postponed last year.

TV history will be made. The NBC Sports Network is broadcasting the Isobel Cup semifinals and final, which will mark the first time women’s pro hockey is shown live on a major U.S. cable channel. The rest of the games are available on Twitch, the Amazon-owned live-streaming platform popular with video-game enthusiasts. Twitch has the exclusive non-U.S. rights to every game (including the semis and final), so that’s the only place for viewers in Canada to watch.

The new NWHL season will be condensed to a 14-day bubble in Lake Placid, N.Y. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)

Quickly…

The New York Mets fired their new GM for sexting a female reporter. Considered a rising star in the baseball-executive world, Jared Porter was hired just over a month ago as new owner Steve Cohen tries to restore the team to respectability. Cohen announced the 41-year-old’s firing on Twitter today, just nine hours after ESPN reported that Porter sent sexually explicit, uninvited text messages and images to the reporter in 2016, when he was working for the Chicago Cubs and she was a foreign correspondent covering Major League Baseball. According to ESPN, which said it obtained their text history, Porter sent her more than 60 unanswered texts, culminating with a photo of “an erect, naked penis,” after they met for the first (and only) time and exchanged business cards at Yankee Stadium. Read more about the latest shameful episode in Mets history here.

Part of the Canadian snowboard team is grounded. Those who compete in the men’s slopestyle event will miss this week’s World Cup season opener in Switzerland after two members of the Canadian team tested positive for the coronavirus. It’s unclear whether those were athletes or staff, but snowboard’s world governing body said the Canadian men’s slopestyle team has been put into isolation, and the five Canadians scheduled to compete in men’s qualifying today (Mark McMorris, Max Parrot, Sebastien Toutant, Liam Brearley and Cameron Spalding) were scratched. Women’s qualifying is tomorrow, and Canadians Laurie Blouin, Brooke Voigt, Jasmine Baird and Sommer Gendron were still listed on the official start list. The snowboard halfpipe World Cup season begins at the same site Thursday, and the Canadians in that event also don’t seem to be affected at the moment — pending further test results, of course. Read more about the positive tests and how they could impact the proposed Calgary freestyle ski and snowboard bubble here.

Kyrie Irving is back. The Brooklyn Nets star rejoined the team today after missing seven games because of an unspecified leave of absence. He didn’t offer much explanation today, except to say he “just needed a pause” and “had a lot of family and personal stuff going on.” During his time away, Irving was seen on video attending an indoor family birthday party without a mask. This violation of the NBA’s health and safety rules cost him more than $800,000 US in salary for the subsequent two games he missed while in quarantine, plus a $50,000 fine. Irving is expected to play tomorrow night vs. Cleveland, which would be his first game since the Nets traded for James Harden.

And finally…

Sarah Thomas will become the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. The NFL announced the crew for the Feb. 7 game today, and Thomas is on it. The 47-year-old down judge became the NFL’s first female on-field official in 2015 and has since worked four playoff games — including the Buccaneers-Saints matchup this past Sunday. Read more about her history-making assignment here.

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