On January 23, 2021 at 1pm EST the NWHL season finally kicked off.
Despite all the obstacles against it, the meticulously planned NWHL Isobel Cup bubble is off to an amazing start.
In an unprecedented time for saying “unprecedented”, seeing something normal is always a good feeling.
Watching hockey is definitely normal.
Watching my favourite Toronto hockey team get shutout on a big night……….. also normal.
The 6ix are an interesting team this year for a multitude of reasons.
The first easily being that the NWHL expanded to Canada. This is the first season The Toronto 6ix even exist; having only been announced by the NWHL as an expansion team April 22, 2020.
The second being of their active roster, only 4 players have played in the NWHL before. Of those four only 2 have played full seasons. We are talking about a roster completely new to this league. Naturally, they have all played hockey at the highest of levels before, in the CWHL, in college but this is a separate beast.
Having the CWHL shut down for economic reasons and the rise of star power joining the PWHPA, the 6ix has the pressure of filling the void of a lot of hockey fans in Canada.
So how did the game go you might ask?
Let’s not overreact to the score.
This game was exactly what it should be: a starting block.
For starters this was their first ever game together. Practicing can only take you so far. Chemistry is formed through real games. Not being able to rely on games of previous seasons for even half of your team is bound to make your first few attempts choppy.
There were a lot of excellent signs to be happy about. Having a coach with the kind of history Digit Murphy has does exactly that. Her emphasis on special teams and playing as a cohesive unit was evident from the beginning. Murphy reference how much better she thought her team was getting as the game went on. She would have liked a bit more puck management, and I can say I completely agree with her (obviously she’ll forget more about hockey than i’ll ever know).
When analyzing any team’s performance I always like to start with the best player on paper. Let me tell you Shiann Darkangelo (#67, team captain) comes exactly as advertised. Being one of the only ones with any NWHL experienced she was noticeable every shift. Most of my notes from the game reference #67. If this is a trend for the season she is going to be hard to stop every night.
Speaking of stopping elite players, Elaine Chuli (#29, starting goalie) stopped more odd man rushes than 2014 Carey Price. The 6ix were strong defensively for the majority of the game, but those few lapses they did make could have been far worse than they were because Chuli was there cleaning up the mess. Keeping your opposing team to 19 shots is a recipe for success but the amount of odd man rushes given were slightly worrying. We’ll chalk it up to rust and first game jitters.
The 6ix are fast. Really fast. Natalie Marcuzzi could be the roadrunner. Several times throughout the game she gave the Riveters fits with excellent bursts of speed, most notably on the PK.
They forechecked hard, they were aggressive. (Maybe too aggressive sometimes……)
A goal allowed in the first 2 minutes of the game always hurts, no matter the game. A bad bounce off a shot from the point gave the Riveters a lead early and even though the 6ix fought hard to respond, Sonjia Shelly stopped them dead in their tracks.
40 shots the goaltender stopped. Forty. Shooting forty pucks on net should get you more than 0 goals 9/10 tries. The 6ix got goalied. They’re coming into the Toronto hockey family the way we know best: losing a game they deserved to win. A second unlucky bounce towards the end of the first period put the Rivs up 2-0 and an empty net late in the game sealed the deal.
They were so close to opening the floodgates….
A few players to keep an eye on for the next game:
I thought Mikyla Grant-Mentis (#13, forward) had several good chances throughout the game. Honestly she might have been the star performer of the night for most people watching. There’s a lot of potential there. She’s explosive, she’s smart. She will be the stuff of nightmares for defenders in the bubble.
Julie Allen (#93, forward) was a strong performer today. Aside from throwing a MASSIVE hit that cost her 2 mins in the sin bin she was excellent on a few puck battles along the boards. She had one of the best chances of the game on a great pass from the corner and quickly released a shot from the slot that fell victim, like every shot today, to a big save.
There is hope yet for this team. They can surprise.
Every game from the bubble is available on Twitch and the semi finals (Feb 4) and finals (Feb 5) will be on NBCSN for the very first time. The game is getting a real focus this year and it is long overdue. These athletes deserve the chance to show what they can do on a stage other than the Olympics every four years.
The content you can find on the 6ix and the NWHL is endless so I have referenced a few places to find more below.