After a 10-month competition drought, former Yale women’s hockey players defender Mallory Souliotis ’18, defender Taylor Marchin ’17, forward Emma Vlasic ’19, defender Saroya Tinker ’20 and goaltender Tera Hofmann ’20 were finally able to lace up their skates again and compete in the 2021 National Women’s Hockey League season that began on Jan. 23.
The season, which took place in the historic setting of Lake Placid, N.Y — home to the 1980 Olympic “Miracle on Ice” game — looked quite different compared to those of years past. In addition to being played in a quarantined “bubble” environment, competition was condensed into a two-week round-robin style tournament. Each of the six teams were set to play five games in eight days followed promptly by the Isobel Cup playoffs. However, on Feb. 3, one day before the Isobel Cup semifinals, the NWHL announced their decision to suspend the remainder of the season due to COVID-19 health concerns.
Prior to the start of the tournament, the Yale hockey alumnae had expressed their excitement and gratitude for the opportunity to return to the ice.
“I am ecstatic that we get to play hockey despite everything [that] is going on,” Hofmann told Yale Athletic’s Steve Conn prior to the suspension of the season. “It has been such a tumultuous year, and I am lucky to have the opportunity to continue to do what I love.”
For some of the former Bulldogs, the start of the 2021 season marked a momentous event in their professional careers. Hofmann and fellow Metropolitan Riveter Tinker made their NWHL debuts in Lake Placid.
Mark Bolding, who assumed the position of Yale women’s hockey head coach in April 2019, worked with both Hofmann and Tinker during the 2019-20 season. He shared great enthusiasm for the NWHL rookies.
“It was very exciting to see Saroya and Tera make their professional hockey debuts in Lake Placid for the Riveters,” Bolding told the News. “Since graduation, they’ve been waiting a long time for the season to begin while training independently, so getting together with their team in the bubble was something they were really looking forward to.”
In spite of their lack of professional experience, Hofmann and Tinker made immediate impacts in competition. Tinker, who Bolding described as “an excellent stay-at-home defensemen over her Bulldog career” notched her first professional career game point with an assist in the Riveter’s 4–3 win against the Connecticut Whale.
Goaltender and Toronto native Hofmann — who left Yale as one of the all-time top goalies for career save percentage to don the Blue and White — was between the pipes for the same contest, making 33 saves and earning her first career win as well as star of the game.
“It was very nice to see them have such a strong start to their careers with the Rivs,” Bolding said. “They will no doubt become solid pros.”
While Hofmann and Tinker were sure to remember their time in the tournament, the 2021 season also held great importance to a number of NWHL players. The league, which has a history of being overlooked by major television networks and sponsors, signed historic partnership deals for the season. The partnership announcement between Discover Financial Services and the NWHL signified the largest in league history. Furthermore, the Isobel Cup semifinals were set to air primetime on NBCSN. Had the season not been suspended, the telecasts would have marked the first time women’s professional hockey games were being aired on a national cable network in the U.S.
Boston Pride defender Souliotis viewed this as a major step forward for women’s hockey. Souliotis, who was drafted eighth overall by the Pride in the 2017 NWHL Draft, expressed to the News how much the opportunity to showcase women’s hockey meant to her.
“Win or lose, for my team personally, it doesn’t matter,” Souliotis explained. “Having that platform to grow and drive viewership numbers is huge, and it only goes up from here. There really is no ceiling for women’s hockey.”
In addition to Souliotis, many players have been utilizing their platform to not only bring attention to women’s hockey but to speak out against social injustices.
As part of the NWHL and NWHL Player’s Association’s ongoing efforts to improve diversity and inclusion, all of the players wore “End Racism” patches on their jerseys throughout the season. Tinker, who is well-known in the league for being a prominent voice for social justice, expressed her sentiments in a statement to NWHL Media.
“As a Black player in the league, I know my voice is being heard,” Tinker said. “We strive to make the hockey community an inclusive place for all no matter what race, gender, or ethnicity.”
Souliotis also emphasized the importance of acknowledging injustices within the league as well as other hardships that female athletes, specifically, face.
The defender said that she and fellow female hockey players have made many sacrifices to try to grow the league in order to create more opportunities for young girls in the future. That is what motivates her every day, she told the News.
The Riveters and the Whale pulled out of the tournament before it was officially called off after COVID-19 cases emerged in the bubble.
Trisha Nguyen | email@example.com