Minnesota's women's pro hockey team waits patiently for a season to begin ... or end
“It almost feels like the season didn’t happen because there was no closure,” Allie Thunstrom said. “We are hoping we get that at some point.”
ST. PAUL -- Allie Thunstrom considers herself a “typical last-minute packer” when it comes to traveling.
It was no different last month after the Whitecaps finished a practice at TRIA Rink a couple of days before they were supposed to play the Boston Pride for the Isobel Cup and the championship of the National Women’s Hockey League.
She got home around 8:15 p.m. on March 11 and started to going through her mental checklist knowing she and her teammates had a flight out of the Twin Cities the next morning.
Then the news about Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert broke: He had tested positive for the coronavirus, and within minutes the NBA had effectively suspended the 2019-20 season.
A couple of hours later, the NWHL followed suit.
“I think at about 9:30 p.m. we got official word that they were postponing,” said Thunstrom, who scored a league-record 24 goals this season en route to sharing MVP honors. “It was so surreal. You go from rushing to pack everything to not having to pack at all. I’ll remember that night for the rest of my life.”
That night catapulted everything forward as the rest of the country quickly started to realize how serious the COVID-19 crisis was in the grand scheme of things.
It seemed like social distancing became the new norm almost overnight, and not long after that, various states throughout the country started to enact stay-at-home orders to help slow the spread.
Meanwhile, the Whitecaps, like everyone else, have been in a state of limbo, holding out hope that they get to play for the Isobel Cup at some point.
“It almost feels like the season didn’t happen because there was no closure,” Thunstrom said. “We are hoping we get that at some point.”
Technically, the NWHL hasn’t canceled the season, and that’s something veteran defenseman Winny Brodt-Brown is holding on to amid a sea of unknowns.
“That’s all we can do at this point,” said Brodt-Brown, who has suddenly become a kindergarten teacher during her time at home. “It’s just frustrating because we don’t know how long this is going to last. Is it going to be a month? Is it going to be six months? Is it going to be a year? Not knowing is the scariest part for us.”
To make matters worse, no one is skating right now, and workouts have been limited to whatever players can do in their respective homes. According to co-coach Ronda Engelhardt, that in and of itself is going to make a restart challenging in any capacity.
“It’s going to get tricky time-wise because we need to give players a chance to get back into game shape,” Engelhardt said. “There are so many layers to the uncertainty.”
Most frustrating for the defending Isobel Cup champion Whitecaps is they felt they had a real chance of going back-to-back with NWHL championships.
After a slow start to this season, they were 9-1-0 in their final 10 games before the postponement, including a dramatic 1-0 overtime win over the Metropolitan Riveters to advance to the championship game.
Boston was the top team during the 24-game regular season, finishing 23-1-0. Minnesota was second in the five-team league with a record of 17-5-2.
“We were playing our best when it mattered most,” Engelhardt said. “We put ourselves in a good position in the playoffs and were getting stronger and stronger with every game.”