Sydney Brodt, a three-year captain at Minnesota Duluth who graduated in 2020, was with the U.S. Women’s National Team wrapping up training camp in Portland, Maine, when she heard the news.
Ashton Bell, the Bulldogs’ current captain who just led the program to the NCAA Frozen Four as a senior, was already in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with Hockey Canada awaiting the final Canadian Women’s National Team roster to be announced when she found out.
That news was the cancelation of the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship by the provincial government of Nova Scotia on April 21 due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in Canada. It was an announcement that caught everyone — from Brodt and Bell to the IIHF and Hockey Canada — by surprise.
The IIHF and Hockey Canada pledged at the time to find new dates for the tournament, which on Friday were announced as Aug. 20-31, 2021. A venue is still to be determined.
Bell, from Deloraine, Manitoba, and Brodt, from the Twin Cities, caught up with the News Tribune on Thursday via Zoom for a Bulldog Insider Q&A to talk about the cancelation of the Women’s World Championship and what could be next for both of them.
Where were you when you heard the World Championship was canceled? How did you find out?
Sydney Brodt: I was on the ice. We had an intrasquad scrimmage and we were just finishing up with it. We just got done practicing some overtime stuff, and our general manager came on the ice. Our whole support staff was standing on the bench, which is unusual, but in my head, I was kind of like, ‘OK, camp is over. She's gonna tell us it was a great week, whatever. Wrap it up and get ready to go.’ But she came on the ice, and told us it was canceled. It was heartbreaking. All of us have trained so hard this year and with COVID, it's been even tougher. We were definitely heartbroken.
Ashton Bell: We were getting ready for our third intrasquad game of a three-game series and I was like half-dressed in the dressing room and someone comes in and they're like, ‘Everyone to the bleachers.’ So we were all like, ‘What's going on?’ Because during warmups, like Syd said, all the support staff went away. They were all huddled and talking, didn't really know what's going on. Then we went out to the bleachers and our director told us the news. Like Syd said, it was heartbreaking and just very disappointing, especially for the older girls who had worked so hard. It's been two years since they had a World Championship, so you definitely felt for all those girls.”
What’s your situation like now? You should be in Nova Scotia competing, but what are you doing instead?
AB: Definitely just waiting to find out what's going on. There are meetings this week and hopefully we know more by the end of the week when the tournament will be. I'm actually heading back to Duluth (Thursday) to start training again with the team for the month of May.
SB: It's weird. I've been training with a group in the Cities this whole year and we kind of just decided to kind of take a week off, off the ice. So some girls went to different cities, like where they're from, went home. I'm basically just taking a week to rest and recover and then getting back to training. We have another PWHPA event that's going to get scheduled, I think coming up here. Hopefully we can do that. I’m just waiting to see. It's tough not knowing because, what's your training schedule, what should I be doing, especially on the off-ice, sort of stuff. I'm just waiting to hear and get a clear cut schedule.
Ashton, you were coming off a college season and Frozen Four appearance at UMD. What was the process you had to go through transitioning from college player to the Canadian national team to prepare for the Worlds?
AB: I definitely think that worked in my favor being able to play games all season. A lot of those girls there were just practicing and skating with each other and in small hubs and working out. I was lucky enough to be able to play games, which I think benefited me heading into the national camp.
Syd, what has the last year-plus now been like for you since graduating from UMD and ending your college career? How have you stayed in shape for the events like the World Championship?
SB: It's been good. Obviously it's a little different than what it would have normally looked like, but overall I had a really good situation. I think it was probably one of the best for pro women's hockey players. Just with living in the Cities, we had a group of 10-15 players that trained together. We played some boys teams in the fall and then in January, I went to Florida for two weeks, two different times, to play in a boys junior bubble/hub thing. So I was super lucky to do that. At the end of the season, we did those two PWHPA events, which was also nice. I felt like I got more games than the average professional women's player this year, so that was nice. Outside of that, I coached and worked a little bit, so I kept busy.
Syd, you got to play in the last World Championship tournament that took place back in 2019. What was that experience like for you and how important is this event on the women’s hockey calendar?
SB: It's huge. The first thing I thought of just from reading a ton of things from players on my team is kind of what Kendall Coyne said. ‘It's like our Stanley Cup.’ It really is, because we don't have any other big event like that. We have college hockey, which is huge and definitely the best place for women to play, but after that it's the World Championship. It's really our Stanley Cup. It was awesome being able to play in that and win gold, but it feels so long ago. I was obviously looking forward to this one. I’m just hoping we can reschedule.
After everything the pandemic has taken away from women’s hockey in the last year, did this year’s World Championship have an added significance for you, Syd, and the other women’s hockey players who didn’t have a steady league to play in like Ashton did the last year?
SB: Yeah, for sure. You don't realize in college how lucky you are, especially at UMD. We get treated like we're professionals. When you’re out, it's shocking what you have to deal with and just goes through with the landscape, especially with COVID. It was probably going to be one of the most important ones in a long time, just with the Olympic year coming up. So many players in the U.S. and all over the world, especially Canada — I know a lot of girls didn't get to play much with the strict protocols — about half the year we hardly played, so it was huge.
Ashton, this could have been your first World Championship experience. It’s a big stepping stone for both of you toward making an Olympic roster. Ashton, what did it mean for you to be on the verge of playing on this big stage for the first time in your career?
AB: It means so much. It's been a dream of mine since I was a little kid and growing up watching all these players play in the Olympics playing — just dreaming of playing with them. So it was, it is going to be really exciting and hopefully they can get the tournament going. Hopefully I make it. I don't know if I even made it yet. That’s stressful not knowing that, but we'll see.