FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, file photo, fans pose below the NHL league logo at a display outside Falcon Stadium before an NHL Stadium Series outdoor hockey game between the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche, at Air Force Academy, Colo. The NHL Players’ Association’s executive board is voting on a 24-team playoff proposal as the return-to-play format, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press, late Thursday, May 21, 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

FILE - In this Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020, file photo, fans pose below the NHL league logo at a display outside Falcon Stadium before an NHL Stadium Series outdoor hockey game between the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche, at Air Force Academy, Colo. The NHL Players’ Association’s executive board is voting on a 24-team playoff proposal as the return-to-play format, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press, late Thursday, May 21, 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

With training camps on the horizon, NHL teams hope to keep COVID-19 at bay

A 28-page document released earlier this week outlines a grocery list of health and safety measures

The NHL’s plan appears robust and detailed.

Once players enter so-called “bubbles” in two hub cities later this month as part of the league’s blueprint to resuscitate its pandemic-halted season, teams should — at least in theory — be fairly well-protected from the threat of COVID-19.

A 28-page document released earlier this week outlines a grocery list of health and safety measures where no stones seem left unturned, including mandatory daily testing and the wearing of masks whenever possible, all the way down to banning high-fives and advising against talking in elevators.

Getting to the bubbles largely unscathed by the coronavirus, however, could be the biggest challenge of all.

There will be strict rules once the 24 clubs set to compete in the league’s return-to-play plan head to the hubs and are quarantined from the general public — Toronto and Edmonton are the expected destinations — but players will be free to come and go as they please during training camps slated to begin early next week.

And while the league touched on the need to be prudent with regards to physical distancing outside team activities during camps in a separate document, it’s potentially a soft underbelly players, coaches and executives know could pose a risk.

“The rink is the safe spot, it’s clean,” Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving said. ”You’ve got the protocol that really is enforceable.

“The recommendation and the messaging to the players is going to be, ‘You’ve got to keep that (personal circle) as tight as you can.’”

The NHL plans to test players every 48 hours during camps, and Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said there have already been conversations amongst his group about the possible pitfalls of the next 2 1/2 weeks as the league looks to kickstart a campaign that was suspended in March as the coronavirus swept across North America.

“Exercise common sense,” Sullivan said. ”It’s to everyone’s benefit, whether it be our players or the public in general.”

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said that message will be crucial for the league during this upcoming period of vulnerability.

“You’re not in a bubble, and players, just like everyone else in the world, are susceptible to this infection,” he said. “People have to be very careful to avoid going out and mingling with others in the world around them.”

While the virus is relatively under control in Canada, the explosion of cases south of the border, including hot spots like Florida, Texas and Arizona, represent a red flag. Of the 24 franchises tabbed for the restart, 18 are located in the United States and won’t head north until the end of the month.

“I’m not going to put words in anyone’s mouth,” Bogoch added. ”But you can be sure teams will be reading the riot act to their players on the importance of ensuring they stay safe and healthy.”

Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes has been holed up in a Vancouver hotel since arriving back in Canada from the U.S. in late June as part of the cohort quarantine plan approved by health officials. He’s able to skate with a few teammates, but has otherwise mostly been confined to his room and is looking forward to a level of freedom.

“At a certain point we’re going to have to live our lives and we’re going to have to go to the restaurants and do these things,” he said. ”But I think you can be calculated and smart staying away from people and doing the best you can wearing a mask and washing your hands.”

And although British Columbia has been commended for its response and control of the virus, risks remain just like anywhere else.

“It’s on the players,” Hughes added. ”The players have to be responsible.”

Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, who’s 60 years old and in a high-risk age group for COVID-19, said his team will do whatever it can to assist players during camp, including getting groceries delivered.

“They’re taking this very seriously,” he said. ”They know the danger of it for them, for their teammates, for their families.

“We all have to do our jobs as far as being diligent.”

Of the 396 NHLers tested at team facilities between June 8 and Monday during small, voluntary workouts as part of Phase 2 protocols, 23 results — in the neighbourhood of six per cent — came back positive. The league said it’s also aware of 12 other positive tests for players not taking part in Phase 2.

Phase 3, which represents the start of camps, will see roughly 750 players report to team facilities next week, as long as the NHL’s return-to-play protocol and extension to the collective bargaining agreement are approved in the coming days.

That means nearly half of players set to compete had yet to be tested by the league as of earlier this week.

An outbreak within a team or teams could wreak havoc on the league’s return-to-play plans. Major League Soccer, which started its summer tournament this week, has seen both FC Dallas and Nashville SC pull out due to 20 combined cases of COVID-19.

Bogoch, who commended the NHL for its attention to detail inside what should be tightly-controlled bubbles, said even if every precaution is taken during camps, there’s a chance the virus will find a way through.

“You’re relying on people’s good judgment,” he said. “That might work out the vast majority of time, but it might not work out 100 per cent of the time.

“One case can certainly beget more cases.”

Exactly what the NHL is hoping to avoid.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

NHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An Island Health nurse prepares a dose of COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo courtesy Island Health)
Health authority opening 19 clinics to immunize Vancouver Island residents

Health authority anticipates more than 40,000 people will be immunized over the next month

The Alberni Valley’s Emergency Operations Centre is located around the corner and below the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District office. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)
ACRD, First Nations to partner on regional evacuation route

Union of BC Municipalities grants $82K for route development

Traffic on Cherry Creek Road is at a standstill as emergency vehicles deal with the aftermath of a collision on Saturday, March 6, 2021. (PHOTO COURTESY TONY SHUMUK)
Air ambulance called for motor vehicle incident near Port Alberni

Helicopter lands on field near Cherry Creek Road

The Alberni Valley Bulldogs have teamed up with the WCGH Foundation in the past to deliver stuffed animals to patients at the hospital. (AV NEWS FILE PHOTO)
Alberni Valley Bulldogs hope to score large donation for West Coast General Hospital

Challenge is part of a league-wide initiative to help give back to teams’ communities

A Port Alberni RCMP car blocks access to Anderson Avenue at Burde Street. (RCMP PHOTO)
Replica firearm prompts police incident in Port Alberni

RCMP had blocked off a neighbourhood while searching for ‘man with a gun’

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

The Port Alice pulp mill has been dormant since 2015. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Parts recycled, life returning to inlet as as old Port Alice mill decommissioned

Bankruptcy company oversees de-risking the site, water treatment and environmental monitoring

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Most Read