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Photo Credit: Nick Barden

Toronto Six get blanked in their debut; but that’s nowhere near the most important part of today’s game

The Toronto Six made their much-awaited debut on the NWHL stage today in Lake Placid, and it was delightful! Yes, they lost to the Metropolitan Riveters, but the game was so much fun, so impressive, and promised so much to look forward to that the loss seems almost secondary to the momentousness of the occasion.

The Good (and Great)

The Six outshot the Rivs 40-19, and if not for Rivs goalie Sonjia Shelly standing on her head, this game would have looked much different. Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Six goalie Elaine Chuli looked solid as well. The first couple minutes were a bit shaky as she got her bearings, leading to the first Rivs goal, but after that she was calm, cool, and collected in net, making some impressive saves to help keep the score down.

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Watch Chuli perform some goalie magic below, as a preview of what we can expect from her this season:

The Six dominated faceoffs and killed all three of their penalties, proving that coach Digit Murphy’s emphasis on systems and operating as one unit is paying off. When I posed this question, on Twitter after the game (with permission from Ian Tulloch, who uses this for his Leafs report cards), the responses were pretty consistent:

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Mikyla Grant-Metis and Elaine Chuli were clearly the standouts in the game, but most viewers recognized the whole team effort that went into it, with not one person naming a Six player as “least impressive.” (Rivs players and puck luck were the most common responses there.)

The Six were buzzing all over the ice, just as Murphy promised in our season preview interview. They were fast, furious, and hunted the puck. And they looked like they were having fun. Despite the loss, this game showed what Six fans can look forward to in the games ahead – and we’re pretty confident that with the first-day jitters out of the way, we’re going to see big things happening.

The Not So Good

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Well, obviously, they lost. And got shut out, to boot. That’s not great. The first few minutes, during which the Rivs scored that first goal, The Six looked shaky and uncertain of themselves. They needed some time to settle into the pace and style of play. Though they did start to settle, it wasn’t always consistent throughout the game – those moments of shakiness crept in a few times.

The team also took a few undisciplined penalties, as not only the pace but the style of play and the way the officiating crew called the game took some adjusting to, as well.

Of course, there was this verrrrrrrry close call where they almost got their first-ever goal:

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We’re still wondering how that didn’t go in.

In her post-game remarks, Murphy shared that she’d like her players to look after the puck a little more, move the puck a little quicker, and focus a bit better on the details of the game. However, the team has a number of young players for whom today was their first ever pro game, and that’s a pretty big deal.

So despite some shakiness to start, and the team taking this game to get their “sea legs”, it was an overall impressive showing from the freshman class of the NWHL.

For a full play-by-play recap of the game, check out NWHL Zone.

The Important

Some things are bigger than wins and losses, and today’s opening game was one of them. This NWHL bubble season in Lake Placid is making history for a few reasons. The Toronto Six making their debut as the sixth team of the league and the first Canadian team is just one. The semifinals and finals being broadcast live on NBCSN is another. 

As Murphy shared with us earlier this week, this season shows that the teams’ ownerships and the league are truly invested in women’s hockey. Other women’s sports leagues’ teams and players have thrown very public support behind the NWHL season. This season is an amazing opportunity to truly grow the game.

And if you watched the game on Twitch or were checking out Twitter during, you’d certainly feel as though the game is growing! The Twitch stream for the game hit nearly 7K viewers at one point, including both JT Brown and Steve Dangle. The multi-camera broadcast and the incredible announcers lent to the professional feeling of the game. I was live-tweeting, and it was truly heartening how much engagement my game tweets received. And the mood of everyone involved can only be described as joyful.

The stream was viewed from all over the world, with people chiming in from Brazil, Germany, France, South Africa, and more. We’ve been talking for a while about how excited we’ve been for NWHL hockey to “come to” Toronto, and it seems we weren’t the only ones. The excitement and energy across the world was palpable.

In the post-game Zoom call with Murphy and Emma Woods, we were able to share with them how many viewers were on the stream and from where. To say they were thrilled would be an understatement. Woods noted that they would have preferred to give Six fans a win, but couldn’t get over how incredible it was that so many people watched – she hopes the games will continue to draw those numbers, because the players are committed to growing the game.

Murphy added that one of the amazing things about women’s hockey is that it’s a sport any average person can be part of – that most people will never go to a Superbowl, and many people can’t afford NHL tickets, but anyone (when COVID isn’t an issue) can participate in women’s hockey. The Six platform of education – inclusion – empowerment is so important to her and the team, and it’s heartwarming that so many people around the world were watching.

Of course, Murphy and Woods both noted that they would not make excuses, and the team wants to win and knows they can, but they had to acknowledge the impact of so little preparatory time together, and the impact of COVID on the team’s start today.

However, Murphy ended by saying: “It doesn’t matter about the first game, it matters about the last game.”

 

Catch the full post game presser, here: