LAKE PLACID, N.Y. — The NWHL made it about a week into its abbreviated regular season before COVID-19 had an impact.
Whether it will spoil the proceedings remains unclear.
Play was halted Thursday after the Metropolitan Riveters, one of six teams chasing the Isobel Cup, withdrew from the season. In a statement, the league said the team returned “several” positive COVID-19 tests.
Additionally, multiple sources told the Globe that at least one positive test by a member of the Connecticut Whale organization prompted an unscheduled round of testing Friday morning.
The league said it hoped to resume play Saturday.
“I think everyone’s a little nervous, but it is what it is,” said Boston Pride coach Paul Mara, whose team played Connecticut on Wednesday.
“Everyone knew the risks,” he added. “We’re confident in the way our team has handled things [regarding safety protocol], both on and off the ice.”
In response to a Globe inquiry about the positive Connecticut test or tests, spokesman Chris Botta said the league had “nothing to report at this time” and had “every intention to return to action on Saturday.”
Until then, it’s game off. Both of Thursday’s games were postponed out of an “abundance of caution,” the league said.
The Riveters were scheduled to play the Buffalo Beauts. Connecticut was to play the Minnesota Whitecaps.
The fifth-place Pride (1-3-0), who have been tested twice since arriving here last Friday, were supposed to practice on Friday and play the Riveters on Saturday. The latter was in third place (2-1-0) entering the final two games of the five-game regular season. COVID-19-pending, a round-robin tournament next week will decide playoff seeding.
“It’s still a little raw for me to comment,” said Riveters forward Rebecca Morse, who was loading her hockey bag and sticks into a car outside Herb Brooks Arena after 1 p.m. on Thursday. Morse said she was heading home to New Jersey.
“We’re not the only ones” who are disappointed by the news, she said, referring to fans of the team and league.
Teams arrived here in buses last Thursday and Friday. The league said the Riveters and health officials “collaborated to bring every member of the team home” in a safe manner.
The situation began brewing on Wednesday, when the NWHL removed the Riveters from a scheduled game against Buffalo and replaced them with the Toronto Six. The league said that change was “made in line with the NWHL’s medical protocols, prioritizing the health and safety of all participants during this season in Lake Placid.”
On Tuesday, Riveters coach Ivo Mocek and at least one player were removed from the bench for the third period of a loss to Minnesota. It is possible that was related to testing results.
In a statement released by the league Thursday, Mocek said the team was “heartbroken to not have the chance to compete for the Isobel Cup,” but was “aligned” with the NWHL in prioritizing the health of all involved.
The NWHL is not conducting a sealed bubble in Lake Placid, an upstate New York village of about 2,500. Rather, it is a protected environment.
Teams are staying in hotels within walking distance of the rink. Personnel have food and necessities provided to them. Everyone has been asked to wear a mask, maintain social distancing, and to be at the rink or the hotel at all times.
The NWHL has an on-site doctor or nurse perform nasal swab (rapid) tests. Additional PCR (saliva) tests are sent to Yale Pathology Labs, which partnered with the league for this season. The one confirmed Connecticut positive was a rapid test, which are known to be less reliable than PCR tests.
All NWHL personnel traveling here were asked to exercise caution for two weeks leading up to the bubble. Most of the players have day jobs, making a strict quarantine difficult to enforce.
A spokesperson for New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) had no comment on the NWHL’s coronavirus situation.
ORDA has jurisdiction over Herb Brooks Arena, which the NWHL is using for games and practices during its two-week run. It does not monitor player behavior.