EDMONTON — Paul Maurice described it as the Stanley Cup playoffs “on steroids.” And his Winnipeg Jets got their first major dose on Monday, breaking out of the secure bubble for a couple of hours and hitting the practice ice in their temporary hockey hub.
JETS LINES AT PRACTICE MONDAY IN EDMONTON:
Extras: Bourque, Harkins, Letestu, Shaw, Gustafsson
Extras: Sbisa, Niku, Bitetto, Dahlstrom
Just like that, a small sense of normalcy was back, even if this whole return-to-play scenario in the middle of a global pandemic is anything but typical.
“I think today is the day that a lot of these questions get answered, and that’s, ‘How do you move an NHL team through its day in this situation that we’re in. So we’ll get over to the rink, we’ll get a look at that setup, we’ll get out and get a good skate here and then by the time we’re done our day here, we’ll have a pretty good handle on how this is all going to go,” Maurice said in a Zoom conference call prior to their mid-afternoon skate at Terwillegar Arena in south Edmonton.
Per NHL protocols, no independent media were allowed to attend practice. The Jets say 30 of their 31 players took part, with only goalie Mikhail Berdin absent. He was not at the club’s two-week summer camp that ended Sunday and has yet to join the team here after being a late addition to the roster.
“These guys are going to be able to run straight focused right through to the Final.” – Paul Maurice
Winnipeg is preparing for its best-of-five qualifying round series against the Calgary Flames that begins Saturday night at Rogers Place. In addition to several days of practices, they also face the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday in an exhibition game.
“There’s no distractions here. There’s only hockey. Not that families are a distraction, but as you go further into the playoffs, you got people coming in, there’s just more demands on your time. These guys are going to be able to run straight focused right through to the Final. For a hockey team like ours, that travel is a factor. You get off the plane at 2 or 3 in the morning enough times, it starts to set you back. So these guys are going to be really well-rested, really well taken care of, very, very focused,” said Maurice.
“We’ve got a real quiet medical room, fortunately. I think a lot of teams do. Once you get over that, hey there’s nobody in the stands, all of the other things that we’ve talked about, if you look just at the opportunity to be great, for your team to feel good, to be healthy, to drive at a very high level. Playoff hockey on steroids. There’s a chance this is as good of hockey that I’ve ever seen.”
The Jets landed in the Alberta capital Sunday afternoon and were immediately placed in mandatory lockdown at the downtown Sutton Place Hotel. Players must self-isolate in their rooms for the first 72 hours, then have no contact with anyone but their own teammates for another 48-hours. After that, they are free to mingle in common areas inside the bubble environment, but they can’t go beyond the perimeter for at least two weeks. The only exception are practices and games.
Many, like Patrik Laine, brought video game consoles, while some of the more learned players such as Luca Sbisa loaded up on reading material. Netflix is likely getting a workout, with so much time to chill.
“Other than the food being changed, you don’t get to grab your own food, that’s a little different, being served. But I think coming into the bubble, we know what we’re focused on and it’s kind just like in an extended road trip, you get into the hotel room and you know you’re going to be here hopefully for a while,” said forward Adam Lowry.
“So just to get used to some of the protocols, wearing a mask and making sure you’ve got your credentials on, filling out some of the things you’ve got fill out before you can enter the rink, that’s going to take a couple of days to get used to but it’s nothing that’s too drastic.”
Several NHL clubs made their players feel right at home by putting family photos in their individual rooms ahead of their arrival, then sharing it on social media. The Jets, apparently, were not one of them.
“But I think coming into the bubble, we know what we’re focused on and it’s kind just like in an extended road trip, you get into the hotel room and you know you’re going to be here hopefully for a while.” – Adam Lowry
“They must have skipped my room,” joked Lowry.
“Yeah, me too,” added captain Blake Wheeler.
The stringent rules are in place for a reason, as the NHL is desperately trying to avoid having its unique post-season unravel. They got some great news Monday when no players tested positive for COVID-19 during the just-completed second week of training camp, when players were still living in their home markets and not under quarantine. Now that they’re in the secure bubble, optimism is growing, even if it takes some getting used to.
“There’s a lot of protocol in place, but now it’s almost routine. They like routine but they’re also very adaptable, so everybody has got their masks on when they’re supposed to. We’ve got fairly strong restrictions for the first five or six days here, we won’t be milling around the bubble area. We’ll be pretty much at the hotel and rink and meal room — and there’s a players’ lounge. So, that’s kind of your life right now,” said Maurice.
“It’s worked out pretty well. There hasn’t been any huge differences to be honest, besides wearing a mask and being careful so I think we’re all pretty confident in this and excited to get started,” added forward Nikolaj Ehlers.
“I got on the plane (Sunday) and turned the corner and there are 30 guys wearing masks on the plane and they’re all sitting in different rows. You have these little pictures in your brain that you could not have possibly anticipated.” – Paul Maurice
Maurice has seen a lot of things in his career, but nothing could have prepared him for these current events.
“I got on the plane (Sunday) and turned the corner and there are 30 guys wearing masks on the plane and they’re all sitting in different rows. You have these little pictures in your brain that you could not have possibly anticipated. I think that might be the first hurdle in enjoying all of this,” said Maurice.
“As a coach — or maybe anybody — you don’t like the idea of not knowing something. That’s the constant kind of running fear in your head, that you haven’t prepared enough or you haven’t anticipated what could happen enough. And then you get into a situation that you just can’t have been prepared for or anticipated. The guarantee is that 30 years from now — and there are hockey historians on this (Zoom) call, so if I said who won the 1967 Stanley Cup, you’re going to have no problem. Guaranteed, nobody forgets who won the 2020 (Stanley Cup).”
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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