Copp looking forward to returning to hockey in middle of pandemic

Winnipeg Jets forward Andrew Copp has no hesitation about returning to hockey in the middle of a pandemic — but doesn’t begrudge any players considering taking a pass.

The 26-year-old from Michigan will join his Jets teammates for summer training camp beginning Monday at Bell MTS Iceplex. Then it’s off to Edmonton, where the Jets will take on the Calgary Flames in a best-of-five qualifying series beginning Aug. 1 while basically living in hotel lockdown.

“Haven’t even thought once about opting out, to be honest with you. I love to play hockey. I’ve been missing it for the last three months. I’ve seen a lot of the statistics with COVID-19 and I understand that there are some risks to a degree, but in my demographic, at my age, I feel that if something were to happen and I were to get it that’s something that, knock on wood, I’d be able to handle,” Copp said Saturday afternoon in a video call with media.

“And on top of it, too, with all the protocols and health and safety, I think it’s almost safe to say you’re going to be safer inside the bubble than you would be outside the bubble if you were just kind of living your life as normal.”

A handful of NHLers have already indicated they won’t be travelling to hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto to participate in the unique 24-team Stanley Cup playoffs that will happen in rinks without fans. That includes Calgary Flames defenceman Travis Hamonic, a product of St. Malo, along with Vancouver Canucks forward Sven Bärtschi and Dallas blue-liner Roman Polak.

Players have until Monday to announce their intentions.

“If anybody opts out, it’s such a personal decision and you can understand why they’re doing it so you’re never going to hold any ill will towards anyone that’s doing it.” ‐ Andrew Copp

“If anybody opts out, it’s such a personal decision and you can understand why they’re doing it so you’re never going to hold any ill will towards anyone that’s doing it,” said Copp.

“Just, for me, I don’t have a wife, I don’t have kids, my immediate family is pretty healthy. I’m not in a situation where I feel worried about getting someone around me sick. But I understand that’s just for me and there’s a lot of guys out there who have different situations so you’re not going to hold any ill will to those guys because you know that their hearts are in the right place and they’re doing it for a reason.”

As of last Monday, the NHL said 35 players have tested positive since the start of June. The league won’t say how many cases could shut the whole thing down once the playoffs begin, only that they’ll be working close with federal health officials to monitor the situation.

“It’s just going to be a lot of strict (adherence) to the protocols and if things start to go awry, you have all of the people there to make the call. You hope that everyone’s pretty dialed in and not only for everyone’s health and safety but for the team too. Hopefully that everyone can kind of realize that we’re all making a lot of sacrifices here,” said Copp.

That includes daily nasal swabs, which are no picnic.

“We call it the brain tickler, because it goes so far up your nose that you think it’s touching your brain. I’ve been tested five or six times now so I feel good about where I’m at. You don’t feel good during the test but after that you’re fine,” said Copp, who was required to quarantine for a week after returning to Winnipeg from Florida on July 2.

And while the secure bubble is meant to mitigate risk, Copp believes the protocols might be excessive.

“But you’d way rather “be safe than sorry” at this point. I think they’re just taking all precaution in making sure that guys feel comfortable coming to the rink and in the bubble and whatnot, so, you know, it’s just something that — it’s a small thing that you’ve gotta deal with in order to do our job and play hockey and try to compete for a Stanley Cup,” he said.

“To replicate that feeling is going to be hard, but hopefully by having a good training camp and being ready to go and having an exhibition game, hopefully all those things kind of start to come back to us and starting fast is going to be huge in the series.” ‐ Andrew Copp

All of this is now possible after players ratified the return-to-play agreement on Friday, along with a CBA extension that guarantees labour peace through the 2025-26 season, reportedly by a 502-135 count. Copp wouldn’t disclose how he voted, but there’s a good chance he was in favour considering he actually served on the negotiating committee which has been meeting virtually around the clock in recent weeks to hammer out an exhaustive agreement.

“Obviously I haven’t gone through anything like that before. I feel like I learned a lot. I feel like it was good to be not only on the periphery, but right in the mix and to have input and be a part of something that’s so important for our game going forward,” said Copp

The biggest concern among players was how future earnings might be impacted by a huge void in league revenues caused by COVID-19, including holding the playoffs without fans. The end result was a new financial framework going forward.

“You hope that this pandemic doesn’t hinder fans coming to games for foreseeable future, I guess. That’s kind of the biggest point, being able to handle that downside of playing with no fans or limited fans or whatever it is throughout the year. That’s the biggest thing for us, is making sure we can have fans and hopefully that kind of leads in the direction where the loss overall isn’t as big as it could be,” said Copp.

Now the focus can return to hockey, with the Jets hoping to pick up where they left off when the league was paused in mid-March. Winnipeg was on a four-game winning streak at the time, with its deepest and healthiest roster of the season.

“To replicate that feeling is going to be hard, but hopefully by having a good training camp and being ready to go and having an exhibition game, hopefully all those things kind of start to come back to us and starting fast is going to be huge in the series. You get one, you get two wins and you start to feel it again and you start to look around the room and start to feel comfortable and you remember where we were at when this thing hit,” said Copp.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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