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February 02, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) The National Women's Hockey League is adjusting its schedule in order to complete the playoffs in March before players leave for the world championships.

The regular season will now end on March 12 and the playoffs will be concluded on March 19, the second-year league announced Thursday. The original schedule included a three-week break before the end of the season and the start of the playoffs in late April.

The change was requested by the players, the league said in its release.

''One of the primary missions of the NWHL is to help women realize Olympic dreams and national team aspirations, so concluding our season prior to the world championships is the right thing to do,'' NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan said. ''We always want to be supportive of our national team players, so we're glad to have worked something out with the player reps.''

U.S. National Team forward Meghan Duggan said players welcomed the league's decision.

''The players appreciate the NWHL and all the general managers and coaches working in conjunction with all of the national team players to make this transition today,'' said Duggan, in a statement issued through her agent, Brant Feldman.

Duggan plays for the Boston Pride, and said the decision to shorten the schedule came after a lengthy discussion after which it was determined to be ''the best course of action for everyone - the players, our league, the national program and supporters of women's hockey.''

Questions were initially raised last summer over the length of the NWHL schedule and what affect it might have on national team players. As a result, a clause was included in player contracts allowing them to opt out of their deals to compete at the world championships and not return for the remainder of the NWHL season and playoffs, said Feldman, managing partner of American Group Management LLC.

The NWHL also announced all four teams - Boston, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters - will return for a third season. The 2017-18 season will include some neutral-site games to gauge interest for expansion, which wouldn't occur until the following season at the earliest.

''We have received interest from several markets and prospective ownership groups, and we will review these options over the next year,'' Rylan said. ''We're grateful for their enthusiasm for the NWHL and professional women's hockey.''

The NWHL, the first professional women's league in the country to pay players, began its inaugural season in October 2015. Boston beat Buffalo to win the league's first championship last March.

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