(Photo Credit: PHF)

By: Jake Solomons | Follow me on Twitter! @jake_solomons

The Premier Hockey Federation announced on Wednesday morning that the 2022 Playoffs will take place at the AdventHealth Center Ice in the Greater Tampa Bay area in Florida, March 25-28. The competition level of the six PHF teams will certainly turn up the heat, aside from the Florida climate, knowing that the road to the 2022 Isobel Cup Championship is being paved as we speak.

The schedule consists of five games, including two preliminary round matchups on Friday, March 25, followed by two semifinals on Sunday, March 27, all streaming live across the United States on ESPN+ and internationally on ESPN affiliates, including TSN Direct in Canada. The Isobel Cup will be awarded on Monday, March 28, live at 9:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2. No, that is not a typographic error. ESPN2 will be covering women’s ice hockey on primetime. With the 1.3 million viewers who watched the USA/Canada Women’s preliminary game in Beijing on Monday, I think there’s a good indication that the PHF will have decent viewership numbers.

“The 2021-22 season has been truly historic for the PHF and for our athletes who deserve the opportunity to compete for the Isobel Cup and raise it in the national spotlight on ESPN2. Playoff weekend will be the pinnacle of a season full of highlights as we crown the first champion of our new era in Tampa Bay, or ‘Champa Bay’ as it has become affectionately known…We’re excited to add to that legacy by showcasing the talent and skill of our athletes in Florida and continue growing the game by inspiring new fans and reaching a larger broadcast audience who will enjoy the very best of professional women’s hockey.”

Tyler Tumminia, PHF Commissioner

The decision to move the PHF playoffs to Tampa is interesting because it raises the question: “What about the hometown fans?” It’s an honest question. A neutral site is not totally unfamiliar in the PHF, as the 2020-21 “season” was contested in a “bubble” in Lake Placid, New York, in January of 2021. That seems like ages ago but remains relevant to the conversation. At least, I think it does. The AdventHealth Center ice does have a history along with it, as it was the home training facility of the 2018 Olympic Gold Medalist Team USA. It also served as the host site for the Four Nations Cup in 2017.

“We have been a catalyst for the growing interest in hockey in Florida since our opening, and in girl’s hockey in particular. Being the training home of the U.S. National Women’s Team prior to the 2018 Olympics and hosting USA Hockey’s Women’s Nationals every Spring has helped lead to an exponential increase in the number of female players we now have in our leagues and in the sport as a whole. We expect the PHF championship to only further that excitement and participation.”

Gordie Zimmermann, CEO, AdventHealth Center Ice

Moving the playoffs to Florida certainly puts the hometown fans at a disadvantage, but it provides an opportunity to expand, grow and ultimately test the market climate of women’s hockey in Florida – or at least outside the Northeast region of the US/Canada.

(Photo Credit: PHF/ESPN)

In October 2021, the PHF announced an agreement making ESPN+ its exclusive home in the United States for the entire 2021-22 season. The championship final on ESPN2 will be the network’s first linear broadcast of professional women’s hockey.

“We’re thrilled to showcase the top players in women’s hockey as they conclude an exciting PHF season. The final playoff push for the Isobel Cup will be a great complement to our lineup of hockey programming, and we look forward to the championship game on ESPN2.”

John Lasker, Vice President, Digital Media Programming, ESPN

Last season, the PHF (then NWHL) Isobel Cup Championship Finals were broadcast on NBCSports Network. It was enjoyable watching the teams battle it out on a national platform, a spotlight that was well deserved and hard-fought to obtain. The Boston Pride faced off against the Minnesota Whitecaps in the Finals, where the Pride outlasted the Whitecaps 4-3 to capture their second Isobel Cup title. Will we see a repeat performance by Boston and perhaps capture a third Isobel Cup? Time will only tell…

Who’s In? Who’s Out?

Well, we know that among the six teams in the PHF, the league’s top two teams will have a first round-bye. The remaining four teams will battle it out for the chance to get one step closer to hoisting Lady Isobel on March 28. Currently, the top two teams in the standings are the Connecticut Whale and Toronto Six, who are both searching for their first Isobel Cup titles.

(Photo Credit: Michelle Jay/Boston Pride)

The Boston Pride, currently in third place, is the only team to have won twice, having celebrated during the inaugural 2015-16 season and again in 2021. The fourth-place Minnesota Whitecaps last won in 2019; the fifth-place Metropolitan Riveters claimed the prize in 2018, and the sixth place Buffalo Beauts were victorious in 2017. 2022 will be the first time the Isobel Cup is contended for in a neutral state outside of traditional PHF territory.

Now, we can’t be biased…can we? If allowed, I would definitely put my money on Boston to set the PHF record of three Isobel Cup Championship victories. Two-time champs are already an impressive feat, but why not surprise everyone and go for three? Boston does have an advantage in this arena, though. Olympic Gold Medalist, now Boston Pride defenseman Kali Flanagan, was a part of the 2018 Team USA roster, who used the AdventHealth Center Ice as their training facility. With that, any advantage the Pride can get to a “home-ice advantage,” they will absolutely take it.

The Connecticut Whale and Toronto Six are scary good this year, so whoever makes it to the Semifinals will have their work cut out for them against the top two teams. The Whale are in first place with 31 points, and the Six sit in second with 28 points. There are 25 games left in the regular season over the course of six weeks. The standings are all but set in stone, so realistically there could be two totally different teams in first and second. With the way, CTW and TOR are playing, probably not. That challenge for the lower-seeded teams should provide more motivation to play harder and, in turn, will result in a heated battle in the 2022 playoffs.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks because we’re getting ready to see some gritty, hard-nosed hockey. Things are gonna get spicy. As hockey fans, we all know one thing. There is nothing that compares to playoff hockey.

2022 Isobel Cup Playoff Schedule:

Friday, March 25 – Preliminary Round
4:00 p.m. ET – 3rd Place vs. 6th Place (ESPN+)
7:30 p.m. ET – 4th Place vs. 5th Place (ESPN+)

Sunday, March 27 – Semifinals
1:00 p.m. ET – 1st Place vs. Lowest Remaining Seed (ESPN+)
4:30 p.m. ET – 2nd Place vs. Highest Remaining Seed (ESPN+)

Monday, March 28 – Final
9:00 p.m. ET – Winner of Semifinal 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal 2 (ESPN2)