Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/7/2020 (302 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There’s no GPS monitors attached to their ankles, nor is head coach Paul Maurice showing up at their door in the middle of the night to ensure compliance.
But make no mistake about it: despite only a handful of active COVID-19 cases around here, the Winnipeg Jets are basically in lockdown while back in town for their two-week summer camp.
They’ve been given instructions to severely limit their time in the community, which is the way it should be for the health and safety of everyone.
"We’re not really allowed to go anywhere but the rink and back home, depending on where guys came in from and how long they’ve been in town. It’s a bit of an adjustment because you’re almost living your normal life — I mean nothing is normal these days, but you’re still able to go out and do groceries and do simple things. Then you come here and you’re basically locked up again," defenceman Luca Sbisa, who spent most of the NHL pause in California, told me Thursday.
"Everyone has basically gone through it twice now. When it first started and then things, depending on where you lived, were kind of back to normal a little bit and now you’re back to square one."
To be clear, Sbisa wasn’t complaining. He signed up for this, as every player had the option of bowing out if they wished. A few around the NHL did so; none of them in Winnipeg. For this to work in the middle of a pandemic, strict adherence is required. That’s especially true in numerous U.S. cities where the number of cases continue to climb and the idea of holding camps there seems ill-advised.
It’s refreshing to see the Jets are practising vigilance despite being housed in the safest NHL market when it comes to COVID-19 numbers. They have their own policies, on top of what is outlined in a 19-page Phase 3 document put together by the league.
For example, both Josh Morrissey and Adam Lowry came in earlier this month from their off-season homes in Calgary and were still required to quarantine for a week and pass four COVID-19 tests before they could begin skating, like every other teammate. This, despite the fact Albertans are currently allowed to travel to Manitoba without self-isolating.
"We didn’t distinguish between a player that was coming from a hot spot or a player that was considered coming from a low-risk area like Western Canada. Every person in our group that’s here went through that process," explained Maurice.
"We had a bunch of guys that were coming from low-risk areas that maybe wouldn’t have had to quarantine and you’d get a slight competitive advantage because they could work out maybe a few days more. We just didn’t think the risk possibly would certainly be any advantage, so we shut everybody down."
Once they’ve been cleared for training, there are no mandatory isolation requirements for players in their home markets during this phase. However, league guidelines say everyone is "strongly recommended to continue to exercise distancing behaviour... and stay at home as much as possible and practicable and avoid unnecessary interactions with non-family members."
The list of NHL rules is lengthy. No carpooling to practice, and no cabs or rideshare services. No post-skate group meals. No hot or cold tubs, or saunas and steam rooms. No sharing supplements and protein powders, and no passing around creams, gels and balms. The document even urges players to sing Happy Birthday twice when washing their hands.
They’re also urged to do pick up or delivery of groceries and must undergo multiple daily temperature checks, both at home before leaving for the rink and once they arrive. Masks must be worn except when on the ice.
"Listen, we’re in a different world right now. It’s a different time and precautions are of the essence. From my experience, everyone has taken it extremely seriously and that’s all we can do," Morrissey said Thursday.
The big one, of course, is COVID-19 testing, which players are subjected to every second day throughout training camp. According to league protocols, testing "must be done in the context of excess testing capacity so as not to deprive health-care workers, vulnerable populations and symptomatic individuals from necessary diagnostic tests."
"Each club shall engage with its local health authorities to ensure that asymptomatic players and other club personnel are eligible under applicable regulations and local conditions to receive tests, either publicly or privately, and to further ensure that doing so does not take testing resources away from publicly necessary testing," the NHL says.
Results must be available within 24 hours, and a weekly report must be filed about the number of tests conducted, along with any positives. Teams were required to secure a "service provider and/or testing service," but the Jets won’t tell me who that is, nor would they describe the process of how the nasal swabs are being procured and analyzed.
"They (Jets) are paying for that test for themselves. The way we have it set up is it’s not affecting the province’s capacity at all, even though right now we would have had plenty of capacity... The full expense is being paid by them," Manitoba’s chief provincial health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, told the Free Press on Thursday.
As long as all 24 teams can make it through camp and arrive safely to the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto by July 26, expect the most unique playoffs in NHL history to proceed rather smoothly, given the more strenuous conditions that will exist inside the so-called "bubbles" players will be living in.
And that, according to Jets captain Blake Wheeler, will make a few rather small sacrifices in the grand scheme of things worth it.
"It’s not quite life as usual. It’s not business as usual. There’s still a lot of hurt going on, and I’m American, so there’s still a lot of things going on in life outside of this arena," he said. "But for the couple hours that we’re at the facility, we get to be around each other, and it’s definitely a welcome distraction and an opportunity for us to hopefully provide some relief and some entertainment for people who’ve been craving it for a long time."
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.