P.E.I. hockey player Sarah Steele is "very disappointed" after the National Women's Hockey League's shortened season had to be postponed yet again Wednesday due to COVID-19.
Steele, who plays defence with the Toronto Six, is the only P.E.I. player in the league.
The Stratford native is now back home on the Island and in self-isolation.
"We had to go through a lot of adversity just in the preparation stages of getting ready to be there," Steele said of the planned two-week tournament to decide who would earn the NWHL championship and the coveted Isobel Cup.
"The news was very heartbreaking for a lot of players, but I think it was the right decision by the league, especially putting the safety and health of the players as a top priority."
The tournament was suspended after 10 days of games due to multiple players testing positive for the virus. At least one player on each team tested positive, said Steele.
Two of the six teams had already withdrawn due to positive tests.
Toronto played six games at the tournament, coming first in the first round of play. They were on a four-game winning streak heading into the semifinals, scheduled for Thursday.
I definitely wanted to get home [to P.E.I.] as soon as possible, because it's definitely kind of chaotic everywhere else in the world. -Sarah Steele
Steele, who had two assists during the tournament, said she was "really proud" of how she played, "and more proud especially of the team, just given the fact that we hadn't had as much time or time together as the other teams to prepare."
The semifinal and final games were due to be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, the first time women's professional hockey would be broadcast on a major cable network.
Steele said the games that did go ahead were live streamed on the gaming platform Twitch, and got about 1.4 million views.
"It was really reassuring," said Steele. "Even though the fans couldn't be in the rink itself...we definitely knew how much support we had online. "I think a lot of people who may not have watched before were able to catch some of our games online."
A familiar face in the stands
For Steele, there was one very special person "watching" over her in the arena — her father.
"I actually had a cutout of my dad in the stands, so it was nice to look up and see his face," she said.
The stands were full of cutouts of players' friends and family meant to replicate missing fans.
Steele said her father has been her "biggest supporter" ever since childhood, always attending her games and practices.
"I moved away from PEI at the age of 15. So I always remember my dad, he was the one who tied my skates up until I was probably about 12 years old. And just whenever he could come to my games, whether I was in university or abroad, I knew that he was always watching, whether it be online or whenever he could come physically," she said.
"It's always nice to see his face in the crowd, so it was nice that he could be there in some way."
Steele had multiple COVID-19 tests both before and during the tournament, and her latest test was yesterday on P.E.I. It came back negative.
She said she's not sure when she'll be back on the ice, but that the players have been told the league is hoping to finish its season sometime in the next couple of months, if it's safe.
Until then, she's happy to be back home on the Island.
"Whenever I heard the news of the tournament coming to a close, I definitely wanted to get home as soon as possible, because it's definitely kind of chaotic everywhere else in the world," said Steele.
"It was definitely a relief to finally arrive back in PEI."
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