HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
At her eight-year-old birthday party, Lindsay Eastwood told the partygoers she wanted to be a professional hockey player and compete with the best in the NHL.
It’s all about dreaming big and she’s about to receive a late birthday gift. While the 6-1 defender didn’t make the NHL, she’s scheduled to start her professional hockey career Saturday, when she skates for the expansion Toronto Six.
The Six is slated to open the six-team National Women’s Hockey League season in Lake Placid, New York, site of the 1980 Winter Olympic Games. This season has been condensed into a 24-game schedule in 14 days because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s awesome that I have the opportunity to do something I love to play and something that I’ve done all my life,” Eastwood said in a telephone interview. “This will definitely be a special moment.”
It will be special for many reasons beyond the obvious. She quit hockey a fortnight before her first year at Syracuse University for medical reasons. But a miracle brought her back. She didn’t let her name stand for the 2020-21 NWHL draft. But a team later tracked her down.
Eastwood knew hockey would be part of her future, but at the time of the draft she had too many variables on her plate. But when Six head coach Margaret Murphy asked her in June to join the first-year team, it made perfect sense.
In her final year at Syracuse, Eastwood needed to do an internship to finish her masters degree in Television, Radio and Film. But the pandemic had shut down sports. Murphy had an idea – play for us and complete your sports internship.
That two-for-one special was like a lottery win for Eastwood, whose masters project was called Behind the Mask. She had various teammates take off their caged hockey helmets and profiled the women behind the protective masks.
“There were no sports happening. It was stressful. I didn’t want my degree hanging over my head. I hadn’t graduated yet and she (Murphy) said come do your internship with us. It was a big drawing card to have that taken care of.”
“I knew I wasn’t ready to not play hockey,” the Nepean Wildcats product added. “I wanted to keep playing, but I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like. I wanted to play pro and didn’t know they were bringing a team to Toronto.”
Before Eastwood was contacted last spring by Murphy, she received a date for a job interview with the NHL Network. She was upbeat about that opportunity to be on camera and talk hockey. But the pandemic nixed that interview and opportunity.
Four years earlier, an autoimmune disease ended her career as a hockey player. Eastwood discovered she had blood clots in her lungs two weeks before starting classes at Syracuse. She sat out her freshman hockey season.
“I’m not sure how I got the blood clots and was told I would have them the rest of my life. I was devastated,” said Eastwood, who started taking blood thinners at the same time she started to transition to a new sport, rowing.
But at her first annual blood test, her life miraculously changed. The doctor told her to prepare for the obvious result that she would still require blood thinners (only 2.5% are cured). But the test result showed a total reversal.
“It went away. I don’t know why. I never thought I would step on the ice again,” said Eastwood, who had started to learn the “really hard” basic elements of rowing under former Canadian Olympian and Ottawa coach Laryssa Biesenthal.
And now the former Syracuse captain, 2020 College Hockey American division champion, first-team all-star and all-academic honoree will begin her professional hockey career on Saturday. A very belated Happy Birthday, Lindsay.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.