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

Red sky in morning: an early-morning sunrise on May 16, 2020, captured just north of Kitimat. (Eric Roy photo)
Clare’s Corner: Hello, darkness, my old friend

Why does the after-work darkness affect you so much more as an adult than as a child?

(Corrado Colombo photo)
Corrado Colombo, with his wife, Lucy. Colombo is from Italy, but met Kitimat born-and-raised Lucy on one of his annual fishing trips to Kitimat in the early 2000s.
In Our Valley: Corrado Colombo

Corrado Colombo never expected that an annual fishing trip to Kitimat would change his life

Skeena MLA Ellis Ross at his swearing in on Thursday (Nov. 26), with his wife, Tracey, left, mother, Frieda, and grandson, Parker. (Ellis Ross photo)
Ellis Ross sworn in as Skeena MLA

Ceremonies happening virtually rather than all in-person in Victoria

CityWest internet and other services are down in Kitimat as of Wednesday (Nov. 25) evening. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATE: Services down for CityWest users in Kitimat

Services were put out due to a landslide cutting a fibre line

A bus shelter in White Rock is emblazoned with an ad from B.C.’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020. (Black Press Media files)
VIDEO: ‘Am I racist?’ campaign asks British Columbians to confront their unconscious biases

Signs asking British Columbians to think about racial injustice have been put up across the province

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009. (RCMP photo)
Human remains found off U.S. coast in 2009 identified as Penticton man

Jim Neufeld, 55, was last seen leaving his home in Penticton Jan. 21, 2009

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond speaks to a reporter in Vancouver on November 13, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
No evidence that B.C. ER staff played blood alcohol level game, but Indigenous racism ‘widespread’

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond releases findings of independent investigation

(Dave Landine/Facebook)
VIDEO: Dashcam captures head-on crash between snowplow and truck on northern B.C. highway

Driver posted to social media that he walked away largely unscathed

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

Pellet plants deal with a lot of combustible materials. (File photo)
“Fire-related event” at Houston pellet plant injures three, shuts down operations

Rumours of an associated explosion cannot be confirmed at this time

Langley RCMP issued a $2,300 fine to the Riverside Calvary church in Langley in the 9600 block of 201 Street for holding an in-person service on Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020, despite a provincial COVID-19 related ban (Dan Ferguson/Black Press Media)
Langley church fined for holding in-person Sunday service

Calvary church was fined $2,300 for defying provincial order

Most Read