Zoë Hayden

NWHL and CWHL: Playoffs and Chaos

Both the CWHL and NWHL have finished scheduling their final playoff games, and their respective championship-clinching games have the potential to be held on the same day.

The CWHL will keep their format of best-of-three semifinals for the top four teams in the league, followed by a single-game, winner-takes-all showdown for the Clarkson Cup. The semifinals will take place in the final week of February and will be hosted by the higher seeded team in the series. The Final will be at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Sunday, March 13, thanks to a partnership between the CWHL and the NHL's Ottawa Senators, who call the CTC their home. The nearly two-week break between the semis and the final is a long one, but the cachet of appearing at an NHL arena to award the Clarkson Cup seems to be worth the wait.

Last year, the semis and the final were both played at a community rink in Markham, Ontario, outside of Toronto, and the teams had only one day off between the end of the semis and the final match. Even then, the day off (Friday) was only because the semifinal series had both only gone to two games. Had they required a third game, the playoffs would have been a punishing four games in four days.

The CWHL has not yet released a full playoff schedule for the semifinals. Puck drop for the Clarkson Cup Final at Canadian Tire Centre is 4 pm Eastern.

Meanwhile, the NWHL released their full playoff schedule yesterday. The Whale and the Pride have both clinched home ice advantage, so they will each be hosting a best-of-three series. All four NWHL teams make the playoffs in this inaugural season. While Connecticut will play at their usual home rink, Chelsea Piers in Stamford, the Pride will be playing in Beverly, Massachusetts on the North Shore.

via the NWHL:

Semifinals — March 4-6, 2016

@ Chelsea Piers, Connecticut (Connecticut Whale vs. 3rd or 4th seed)

  • Friday, March 4 — 7:10 pm ET
  • Saturday, March 5 — 7:30 pm ET
  • Sunday, March 6 — 6:00 pm ET (if necessary)

@ Raymond Bourque Arena, Beverly, Massachusetts (Boston Pride vs. 3rd or 4th seed)

  • Friday, March 4 — 7:00 pm ET
  • Saturday, March 5 — TBD
  • Sunday, March 6 — 7:00 pm ET (if necessary)

Finals — March 11-13th, 2016

@ Prudential Center Practice Facility, Newark, New Jersey

  • Friday, March 11 — 7:30 pm ET
  • Saturday, March 12 — 7:30 pm ET
  • Sunday, March 13 — 1:30 pm ET (if necessary)

The Isobel Cup Finals and Clarkson Cup Final will mark the biggest competition between the two teams for viewers and fans. Hockey fans in Ontario or New Jersey, for example, will likely gravitate towards the league that is closest to them, but fans who might invest in travel to see their favorite players will have to make a choice, if they haven't made one already. The CWHL/NWHL "fan alliances" have usually fallen on either side of the US/Canadian border. These competitions could both intensify that divide among some fans and show increased interest among fans and media who support and cover both leagues.

Meanwhile, the NWHL has formally announced the resignation of its COO and the interim GM of the Connecticut Whale, George Speirs, and said that the "league will take over the team until a suitable replacement is found." This means that both the NY Riveters (with GM and league commissioner Dani Rylan) and the Whale are essentially still governed by the NWHL itself, rather than independently. While it's worth wondering whether this might affect the competitive advantage of either team in the playoffs, the Whale are still performing very well, despite their recent organizational turmoil.

In the CWHL, the standings could still change dramatically in the final games of the season, namely a battle in the middle for home ice advantage between the Brampton Thunder and the Calgary Inferno.

This post will be updated once a full playoff schedule for the CWHL is announced.

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