HOCKEY

The National Women’s Hockey League called off the remainder of its season Wednesday on the eve of the playoffs because of additional positive test results for the coronavirus.

The NWHL cited safety concerns for what it called the suspension of play inside a quarantined bubble in Lake Placid, New York. COVID-19 instead wreaked havoc on the two-week event.

“We were not trending in the right direction,” interim commissioner Tyler Tumminia said of more test results coming in Tuesday night. “Our actual numbers per se were not alarming in comparison to the scope of other sports clubs or other sports leagues. However, if you project a number that was going to happen, it doesn’t make sense for us.”

Two of the league’s six teams had already withdrawn from the tournament, with the Metropolitan Riveters citing “several” virus cases. Tumminia said the team had 10, which was over the threshold for disqualifying a team.

The Connecticut Whale’s departure was a choice made at the team level. Tumminia said the NWHL would not disclose how many total positive tests it had in what she called a “restrictive access environment” that did not hold up like other pro sports bubbles.

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“The athletes came in into designated hotels on designated floors,” she said. “They were restricted in the sense that they went from their rooms to the rink, rink to the room. That is the technical term of what this bubble was. That’s how we defined it.”

The NWHL had an agreement with Yale University to provide saliva-based COVID-19 testing for players and staff, similar to what the NBA used for its Disney World bubble last year. Even that testing couldn’t keep the virus out, and Toronto owner Johanna Neilson Boynton said, “We knew going in it was a gamble.”

“We stuck by a very strict protocol, and there’s human error,” NWHL Players Association executive director Anya Packer said.

Tumminia added, “Defining the origin and placing blame right now is not really our game.”

Two semifinal games Thursday and the final Friday were set to be televised nationally in the U.S. on NBC Sports Network, putting women’s hockey in a prominent spotlight a year away from the Beijing Olympics.

Despite not doing that, Tumminia called the NWHL season “successful.”

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“I actually see it as a success, she said. “I’m very proud where we got to this point.”

The end of the NWHL bubble experiment came on the same day the rival Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association announced it will play a game at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 28. The PWHPA is made up of 125 of the sport’s biggest stars, including members of the U.S. and Canadian national teams, who banded together in the hopes of forcing the creation of a new pro league.

The game at MSG comes 13 months after PWHPA players took part in NHL All-Star Weekend. It will be the first professional women’s hockey game at the storied arena.

“This is a major milestone for women’s hockey and young girls who aspire to play professional hockey but don’t have the option to make it a career today,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Jayna Hefford, an operations consultant for the PWHPA.

The NHL’s New York Rangers are hosting the women’s game with the team playing at Buffalo that day. Rangers President John Davidson said the team is “excited to play even a small role in helping elevate visibility for the women’s game.”

“The talent level of women’s hockey is simply incredible,” Davidson said. “We all love this sport so much and any opportunity the Rangers have to participate in its advancement is something we want to be a part of. It’s a win for everyone involved.”

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AUTO RACING

INDYCAR: Romain Grosjean, who escaped a fiery crash in Bahrain with serious burns to his hands, was named the new driver at Dale Coyne Racing for 2021, where the Frenchman will become the latest Formula One driver to migrate to IndyCar. He’ll race the 14 road and street courses on the schedule in the No. 51 with Coyne to announce plans for the four oval events at a later date.

Grosjean’s nine year F1 career came to an abrupt end in a harrowing November crash in Bahrain in which he pulled himself from a fireball of wreckage in a real-time spectacle of the dangers of motorsports.Grosjean, who missed the final two races of the F1 season and was not retained by American team Haas, will at last be back in a car Feb. 22 during the IndyCar test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.

His hands are still healing but he expects to be able to put driving gloves on next week without fear of disrupting the scabbing.

Even after the crash Grosjean continued his plans to move to IndyCar. He’d been inquiring with teams since Haas declined to retain both Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen and had been convinced that IndyCar was the right move.

Coyne had been talking to Grosjean even before the Bahrain crash about the move to IndyCar.

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“We’re very happy that he has chosen to pursue his career with us and excited to welcome a driver with his pedigree to America, the series and our team,” Coyne said.

SAILING

VENDEE GLOBE: Clarisse Crémer crossed the line in Les Sables-d’Olonne on Wednesday as the first woman to finish this edition of the Vendee Globe solo round-the-world race, placing 12th overall in what could be a record time for a female sailor.

Race organizers said the French sailor’s overall time of 87 days, 2 hours, 24 minutes and 25 seconds aboard Mono Banque Populaire X would be the fastest solo circumnavigation by a woman in a monohull if ratified by the World Sailing Speed Record Council. The previous fastest time was set by Ellen MacArthur of Britain, who finished second in 2001 after sailing for more than 94 days.

Crémer sailed into Les Sables-d’Olonne on France’s Atlantic coast nearly seven days behind the winner, Yannick Bestaven. It was her first solo circumnavigation.


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