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Inside The National Women's Hockey League's Coronavirus Bubble


The National Women's Hockey League is off to a rocky start. It just began its two-week season in a bubble in upstate New York. And today, one team dropped out because of coronavirus infections. For another team, the tournament is a chance to win a championship that was taken away by the pandemic last year. From member station GBH, Esteban Bustillos has more from Boston.

ESTEBAN BUSTILLOS, BYLINE: As the days ticked down towards the Isobel Cup Final last March, the Boston Pride seemed poised to add yet another trophy to their collection. With a 23-1 record, a championship felt inevitable. The only thing that could stop the hockey team, it turns out, was the coronavirus. The NWHL postponed the final a day before the championship game as the sports world began to wise up to the viral threats. Eventually, it got canceled altogether. Pride forward and captain Jillian Dempsey remembers the emotional elevator.

JILLIAN DEMPSEY: As everything settled, it was starting to become more frustrating, being like, oh, man, we never got that chance.

BUSTILLOS: Now, almost a year since the team's last game, the Pride are back on the ice for a two-week bubble season in Lake Placid, N.Y.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And it looks like a penalty coming - another power play coming for Boston.

BUSTILLOS: Bubbles have become common as pro leagues navigate COVID-19 - no travel, no fans, frequent COVID tests and many other restrictions. For Pride President Hayley Moore and the rest of the NWHL, the challenge of setting up the protective shell has been worthy of its own trophy.

HAYLEY MOORE: We want to be sure that the safety of our players, our staff, our fans, our communities are the top priority. And as things evolved, this was really just the natural fit to be able to salvage a season.

BUSTILLOS: At Lake Placid, the team's out to win hockey games, but players also have to carry on with their lives. Rookie forward Sammy Davis is continuing work on her doctorate degree while she's in the bubble. Jillian Dempsey teaches fifth grade. The time in New York is no vacation for them. Dempsey taught remotely last fall and started hybrid classes this month. In Lake Placid, she's teaching on Zoom from her hotel room during the day and then taking to the ice at night. It's a grind for two weeks.

DEMPSEY: It's pretty much going to be a game every day or every other day, and that's a tremendous amount of hockey.

BUSTILLOS: With games underway, the Pride have a chance to feel something like normal again, if just for two weeks, and maybe claim a crown that never found a head to rest on last March.

For NPR News, I'm Esteban Bustillos in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF SUNSQUABI'S "ANYTIME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Esteban Bustillos