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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 7, 2020
Postmedia reporter Ben Kuzma has his temperature checked prior to entering Rogers Arena to attend the Vancouver Canucks NHL hockey training camp, in Vancouver, on Monday, July 13, 2020.
Vancouver Canucks stretch and cool down after the second session on the first day of training camp at Rogers Arena on Monday.
Vancouver Canucks head coach Travis Green wears a face mask as he sits in the stands to watch players scrimmage during the second day of the NHL hockey team’s training camp, in Vancouver, on Tuesday.
From a distance, Day 2 of the Vancouver Canucks training camp probably looked normal.
The players skated. They drilled. The ice was resurfaced and they scrimmaged. If you’ve been to a camp, you’ve seen it all a hundred times before.
Now take out the wide-angle lens, pan Rogers Arena and, suddenly, things aren’t quite as normal for a seasoned scribe.
For starters, Gate 2 — the only entry to the rink — had to be located, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Turns out it’s on the 300 level and its accessed via Dunsmuir, not by walking around the Rog for 20 minutes cursing to yourself.
And don’t get me started on Zoom.
Upon entrance, a cheerful health official points what looks like a phaser from Star Trek at your forehead and takes your temperature. Then you enter the upper reaches of the arena where your colleagues have assembled — at a suitable distance, of course — when you notice your glasses are steaming up because of the mask you’re wearing.
This leads to a detailed conversation with another media type on the optimal positioning of glasses related to mask to prevent the fog.
All this occurs on July 14 as the Canucks prepare for a play-in series with the Minnesota Wild in Edmonton which commences on Aug. 2. They will be one of 12 teams in the Alberta capital competing for a Stanley Cup, which is scheduled to be awarded sometime in September. While in Edmonton the Canucks will exist inside a bubble, which will consist mostly of their hotel room and Rogers Place. They could be in that bubble for a month.
Goalie Jacob Markstrom, who’s just off two weeks in quarantine in Vancouver, described that existence thusly: “Wake up, either get tested for corona or eat breakfast, then walk to the rink through B.C. Place, skate, and then back to the hotel and lay in bed.”
He’s asked if he expects anything different in Edmonton.
“I know it’s going to suck,” he says.
This week the Canucks have entered Phase 3 of the NHL’s return-to-play plan and, while it’s still early days, it appears the biggest challenge facing the team won’t be shaking off four months of accumulated rust as they ready for the Wild. It will be convincing themselves their preparation is normal and part of a coherent, well-conceived plan.
That’s the way the NHL is selling this production and, who knows, maybe by the time everyone gets to Edmonton all the parts will be fully functioning and there will be something approaching the playoffs. But in the here and now the only thing that registers is the singular abnormality of the new normal.
“It’s not normal and acknowledging that is probably a good thing,” said J.T. Miller. “We didn’t come back here to do our quarantine, play a series and go home. We’re here to win now. I think that can override anything that’s not normal.
“For what it’s worth, we still want to beat the other team even though there’s nobody there and you can’t feed off the crowd. But everyone is playing under the same conditions. It’s going to be hard. I think we need the next two, three weeks to put that behind us and treat it as normal as we can.”
Which is hard when your life consists of the rink and Netflix.
The term surreal is thrown around so loosely these days that its meaning has been diluted. But if you go by the strictest definition — “having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of a dream; unreal; fantastic.” — it seems applicable here.
There are so many things about the restart which are completely outside the normal NHL experience, it’s hard to know where to start. It’s also harder to know what the impact will be on the players and the game.
During his availability on Tuesday, Canucks head coach Travis Green allowed that players are creatures of habit and that routine allows them to cope with the crushing demands of their job.
But what if that routine is broken?
“The new normal is different,” Green said. “Things aren’t going to be normal. You’re going to have to be adaptable and with being adaptable you can’t lose your focus.
“You have to make sure that doesn’t disrupt your game.”
To that end, Green says he’s encouraged the players to — wait for it — talk about their feelings. That alone tells you things have been turned upside down by COVID-19 but, throughout the lockdown, mental health has been a concern in the workplace and the Canucks are no different.
“If you need to talk about it or if things are bothering you, talk to someone, whether it’s coaches, teammates or sports psychologists,” Green said. “I think it’s important with the way things are right now.”
And will be for a while.
“It almost feels like the only normal part of the day is when we step on the ice,” Green continued. “We talked about that in the coach’s office. Right now everything is different and when you step on the ice, it feels normal again.
“If you can remember when you were a kid and just went and played hockey, that feeling sticks with you forever. I think we have a lot of players like that. I think that’s going to be important.”
Now more than ever.
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