TORONTO — On the same day MLB was thrown into disarray when a novel coronavirus outbreak on the Miami Marlins forced the postponement of two games, the NHL reported zero new coronavirus cases during its last week of training camp.
“It feels super safe here,” Washington Capitals winger Carl Hagelin said Monday. “It’s the safest I’ve felt since this happened in early March. The hotel is great as well.”
While in their bubbles, all players and staff members will be tested daily for the coronavirus, with results available within 24 hours. During training camps, players were tested every other day and were not subjected to any sort of quarantine away from the rink. Now in their hub cities, players will only be allowed in the secure zones the NHL has set up, which include hotels, practice rinks, arenas, select dining options and recreational areas.
With encouraging news on the testing front, teams started to hit the ice Monday. The Capitals participated in their first practice session in Toronto at the Ford Performance Centre.
All 31 players on the travel roster participated in the practice. The Capitals will practice again Tuesday before playing an exhibition game Wednesday against the Carolina Hurricanes at 4 p.m.
“It was a sigh of relief [to get here], and I think our practice today was indicative of that,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said Monday. “Really upbeat practice and not our normal practice time of any means. … I thought for the most part our team was in really good spirits today.”
The Capitals took a Sunday afternoon flight into Toronto, which was documented through player and team social media accounts. On a humid, hot day in the Washington area, players donned different masks of their choosing as they waited to board the team plane. Most players wore typical blue surgical masks or plain face coverings. Others, such as captain Alex Ovechkin and winger Tom Wilson, opted for branded gaiters and masks.
Ovechkin sported his “We Will Skate Again” gaiter with Ovechkin’s signature logo, a cornered No. 8 surrounded by the letter O. All sales from the mask will benefit Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation’s Feeding the Frontlines Fund to support health-care workers and first responders during the pandemic. Wilson was wearing a mask from Bash Boxing, a gym in which the winger has a financial stake.
“It was kind of weird getting onto the plane at first,” defenseman John Carlson said. “We haven’t been on a plane in a long time. Just being in a hotel, haven’t been in a hotel in a long time. So in that sense, yeah, it does feel a little more normal. … It does feel a little bit more like this is our calling and this is what we do and it’s just something where it’s normal to us.”
Carlson said it felt a little more normal going through the first full day of practice and staying at the hotel, minus wearing the masks, being checked for symptoms and using the same hotel as their opponents. Ovechkin added that he thought the first night was a little “tough” after being with family for so long during the pause.
“Everybody’s making sacrifices, but we’re having a good time,” Carlson said. “We’re enjoying ourselves. There’s a lot of people out there that are really making an actual sacrifice — doctors and being away from family, that kind of thing. Us being here, we’re away from our families and that stinks, but this is our job and something that we love to do. That’s what we’re here for. We’re here to play hockey, have fun and put on a show for the fans.”
When they aren’t on the ice, the players will be spending a fair amount of time together. For such a tightknit group as the Capitals, being together and figuring out what to do to keep entertained should prove to be the least of their worries.
When the Capitals went on their first trip in late February with newcomers Ilya Kovalchuk and Brenden Dillon, a day off was scheduled in Minneapolis. So the team decided to have a team bonding experience and went bowling. Braden Holtby recalled that 10 or so players stopped in at the bowling alley, and he made sure to note that Wilson was pretty good. As for his own bowling game, well, he said it needed work.
Bowling is not on the bubble agenda, but there will be multiple recreational activities for teams. The Capitals also made sure to bring along their own entertainment: card games, video games and, for Holtby, his guitar.
“If we could all get in a room and Holts just jams on the guitar and we all chat and hang out, this team finds it’s very easy for us to entertain each other and hang out and have fun,” winger T.J. Oshie said during training camp. “Just being together, I think, is going to be important during this playoff stretch here after a four-month break from seeing each other.”
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