Pale silver lining for Jets with Canucks’ COVID predicament

The severity of the predicament in Vancouver is not lost on the Winnipeg Jets.

A COVID-19 outbreak in the Canucks organization — eight players and one member of the coaching staff, so far — and the resulting game postponements will somewhat ease the Jets’ burden during a hectic part of the compacted NHL regular-season schedule.

Winnipeg’s contests with Vancouver on Sunday and Tuesday have been shelved for now, while the league has slotted in a meeting with the Ottawa Senators on Monday, instead. The Jets then have two days off before they visit Montreal to battle the Canadiens on Thursday, the start of a five-game road trip.

But no one’s feeling good about the circumstances that led to a lightening of the load.

“I didn’t feel there was a whole lot of chance of us getting it because how would you? We just don’t cross paths with anybody, and then boom, you have a number like (what) is coming out of (Vancouver) and you’re worried for them, you’re hoping they can all kind of rebound and become the players that they were, that everybody gets healthy, that they’re fine,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice, following Friday’s morning skate.

“There’s also a reminder of vigilance here, that it’s not the time to get casual. This isn’t necessarily getting better in other places, though Manitoba has been a pretty fine place to live for the last year-and-a-half. Maybe the short answer is that it hits home.”

It’s the second time in under two weeks the league’s Canadian-based North Division has been impacted by COVID-19. The Canadiens had four games postponed after two of their forwards, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and former Jets winger Joel Armia, were added to the NHL’s protocol list.

Maurice said concerns about the virus were almost entirely out of mind because of the strict routines being kept by all teams.

That is, until the Habs’ health scare made headlines.

“Up until Montreal, I don’t think we got casual here but it didn’t necessarily seem as real to us. It didn’t seem to affect us,” he said. “Our most recent memory is that we’ve been on the road for the whole month (of March) and you are truly then feeling quarantined. It’s your hotel room, the rink, it’s the meal room and that’s your life.

“So, then you start to see that this is still very real for a lot of people.”

Jets forward Mason Appleton said his thoughts are with the Canucks.

“You never want to see teams get shut down, first of all. And you hope everybody is able to fight it off pretty easily. Obviously, players have families and things like that, so hopefully it doesn’t spread throughout their families and kind of just stays at the rink,” Appleton said.

“We’re professional athletes, our bodies are pretty well-oiled machines, and I think they should be able to fight this off. I know if you look at the stats it’s pretty promising that you’ll be alright if you’re a 20-, 25-, 30-year-old guy that’s in shape and active. But you never want to see guys get COVID. Hopefully, they all have speedy recoveries.”

Two Jets skaters have tested positive since the start of the global pandemic. Anthony Bitetto arrived late to training camp prior to the 2020 playoffs, confirming he caught COVID-19 in Nashville but suffered only minor symptoms. He’s now with the New York Rangers.

Earlier this season, defenceman Tucker Poolman was diagnosed with the virus a day after the season-opener Jan. 15 and missed several weeks of action. He later said his symptoms — fatigue, fever and body aches — didn’t appear until the day after he was informed of his positive test result. His fiancée contracted COVID-19 a week later.

Abiding by health and safety protocols is simply part of everyday life, at home and at work, Maurice said. And mask wearing has become as routine as putting a shirt on in the morning.

“When you’re going somewhere now, I spend way more time walking around my hotel room with my mask on, having forgotten to take it off, than I do now walking out of my hotel room going, ‘Oh s—, I forgot my mask.’ Sorry about the word. Now, you’re sitting watching a game in your room for an hour and 45 minutes and you still have your mask on,” said Winnipeg’s bench boss.

“Our trainers have been on it hard right from the bubble last summer. We took a fairly hard stand here. It became part of our culture. I’m saying that, but you still can’t stop it. Other teams are doing good things, too. I feel like we’re engrained in what we’re doing right now, but we’re very aware that you’ve got to have some luck in this.”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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