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JONES: NHL gets it right with Hub Cities in Return to Play format

Calgary Flames Mikael Backlund, Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Kylington on Monday July 27, 2020 inside the NHL bubble in Edmonton. The Flames Will take on Winnipeg Jets in 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting August 1st.
Calgary Flames Mikael Backlund, Erik Gustafsson and Oliver Kylington on Monday July 27, 2020 inside the NHL bubble in Edmonton. The Flames Will take on Winnipeg Jets in 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs starting August 1st.

The complete contrast is impossible to ignore.

On one hand you have baseball where they are trying to pretend it’s near normal and insist on flying teams from city to city for home and away games as usual despite the raging pandemic in the U.S. and no fans in the stands.

Due to the fact that 11 Miami Marlins players and two coaches tested positive for coronavirus, Major League Baseball was forced to cancel the Marlins home opener and the New York Yankees game against the Philadelphia Phillies, the Marlins most recent opponent.

They’re three games into the season!

We take you now to beautiful downtown Edmonton, Alberta, Canada where 12 NHL teams checked into Hub City Sunday.

Monday they were greeted by the news that there was not one positive test by any of the 800 hockey players tested a total of 4,256 times from July 18-25.

Not one.

And it would be tough to find a happier group of campers than those gathered here and at the other Hub City in Toronto where they’ll begin the playoffs Saturday after one exhibition game each in the next three days.

“Zero positives over the last week in more than 4,000 tests speaks to the dedication that these guys have and understanding the opportunity for everyone that returning to play to to compete for the Stanley Cup means to each of them,” John Hynes, head coach of the Nashville Predators said with emphasis here Monday.

“I just think it speaks volumes about hockey and hockey players.

“There are no issues with any team. Part of giving your team a chance to win is abiding by the rules. Just being here and seeing the other teams around, you can see that every last person here is abiding by the rules.

“Everyone is paying attention to social distancing. Everyone is wearing a mask. There doesn’t seem to be any push back from the players. That’s a real tribute to the league and those guys.”

The NBA had a player decide to visit a strip club the other day. And the NBA choosing the ESPN complex in Florida where COVID-19 is totally out of control is another contrast, particularly to Edmonton.

Hub City looked a more like the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’ as the dozen Western Conference teams arrived Sunday and settled in Monday than the one in Disney World.

And Hynes’ Predators were as good an example as anybody. When the Nashville players entered their hotel rooms inside the bubble at the J.W. Marriott Sunday, they found framed pictures of their wives and kids and loved ones on the nightstand.

Matt Duchene tweeted a picture of the framed photos.

“I’m not crying. You’re crying.”

Everywhere they looked, the Preds were wowed.

The old saying is that you can only make one first impression and, boy, did the NHL, the member teams and the two hub cities ever make a great first impression as the teams arrived and began final preparations for the mid-summer pandemic version of the Stanley Cup.

“Our team meal room is kind of decked out with a lot of Predators stuff. We also have logos on all of our doors at the hotel, so we’re trying to make it as homey as possible,” said Hynes.

“As far as Edmonton, the bubble and the J.W. Marriott, it’s been excellent,” he said.

“Our first two meals here were fantastic. The rooms are very nice. The way they have everything set up in the hotel is extremely convenient. There’s tons of room and there’s tons of space in the meeting rooms.

“And they’ve set up a really nice bubble outside. There’s a great area with tables and food trucks. And it has Tim Horton’s for free, which is fantastic.

“It’s been great. All the feedback from the players has been what a great job that’s been done here by the organizers. Combined with the great job done by our own organization, everybody has combined to make it as good as possible.”

“They did an unbelievable job. The pictures of family, everybody really appreciated that. Obviously everybody is going to miss their families,” said captain Roman Josi when I asked him.

“And in general, on our floor there’s a lot of Nashville Predators stuff. They tried to make it feel a little bit like home even more. And with the rest of it, it’s really good here,” he added.

Mattias Ekholm likes the set up with the Ice District.

“We have this outdoor area with a basketball hoop and other things to do. They have some food trucks and tables. Just to be outside it great. So far I have nothing to complain about,” he said.

“It’s a pretty giant undertaking in what’s happening in both these bubbles. I don’t think any details have been overlooked,” said Nick Bonino who says the outside part might be the best part.

“You can sit out there and get some fresh air. In Nashville when you go outside from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. it’s 100 degrees out.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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