HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Lindsay Eastwood’s first experience in a professional women’s hockey setting was much like spending a long time on a scary amusement-park ride. There were highs. There were far too many lows.
“It was quite the rollercoaster of emotion,” said the Ottawa defender who played for the expansion Toronto Six in the National Women’s Hockey League, which shortened its season because of COVID-19 and eventually had it halted by the virus on the eve of the playoff round.
The Six took every precaution, according to Eastwood, to follow the health and safety protocols. But in the end, the first-place Six was affected by the global virus, just like the other five teams. And Eastwood was one of COVID-19’s victims.
After isolating in Toronto and testing negative before travelling by bus with her teammates to Lake Placid, staying alone in her hotel room when not at the Herb Brooks Arena and doing her best to follow the rules to fight COVID-19, Eastwood still tested positive.
Eastwood, who was tested throughout her time in the bubble using a saliva-based procedure provided by Yale University, learned she tested positive the same day the NWHL postponed its playoffs (Feb. 3), the day before the Isobel Cup semis.
“I was one of them. I’m OK,” said Eastwood, who has returned to Toronto and will complete her 14-day quarantine in her apartment next week. “It has been an absolute rollercoaster. I have learned a lot about the virus.
“I was lucky I didn’t get too sick. I have heard about horror stories with the virus. I am isolating in my bedroom.”
Before the Six left for Lake Placid, the team isolated and only had a few practices for COVID-19-related reasons. But the players were upbeat as they crossed the border, after everyone tested negative. They wore KN95 masks on the bus.
During the team’s two-week stay at High Peaks Resort, the players were assigned individual rooms, ate meals in their room alone and otherwise remained in their room, when they weren’t playing or practising at the arena.
If Eastwood saw a player from another team at the rink, she followed the physical distancing rule and stayed a minimum six feet away.
“There was definitely a lot of alone time, but I was busy with work,” said Eastwood, who does video marketing with Critical Mass, and also blogged for Sportsnet about the NWHL bubble season. “If I wasn’t working, I’d play hockey or was tired and needed to rest. I have no complaints. I wasn’t bored.
“The Toronto Six is a professional organization, did it right from top to bottom, followed the rules … and went above and beyond.”
While the rollercoaster lows can be attributed to COVID-19, there were a number of highs from a hockey sense. After losing its first two games in the six-team, round-robin format, the Six won its next four and finished in first place at 4-1-1.
“As a team, we were starting to make waves,” added the Nepean Wildcats product. “It’s too bad to have it end with COVID-19 getting in the way. It’s heartbreaking not to have the final games. We were finally in stride and I felt confident.
Eastwood also scored the Six’s first franchise goal, a power-player maker which came in a 6-5 overtime loss to Minnesota Whitecaps. She played a strong tournament with one goal, five assists, and was a plus-seven in six games.
“It was exciting to play my first (pro) game. I hadn’t been nervous for a hockey game for a lot of years. It’s a brand new team, we hadn’t had a lot of practice as a new squad and we didn’t know what to expect,” the former Syracuse Orange captain continued.
“I was super excited (first goal). At the time, it was awesome. I didn’t think of it as the first goal of the franchise. When I went on my phone, it blew up with congratulations. It’s amazing to see the support. It brought a tear to my eye.”
When Eastwood was on the ice, the thought of COVID-19 never crossed her mind. But when each period ended, she returned to today’s new normal and put on her face mask. She is hopeful the playoffs can unfold at some point.
“I’m hoping we can finish this. It’s not cancelled. It’s postponed. I’m not sure when it will resume. I would like to finish what we started,” Eastwood said. “COVID-19 did bring it to a halt, but there were big strides for women’s hockey.”
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.