Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher (11) and teammates celebrate in the closing moments of the team’s 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., on January 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jeffrey T. Barnes

Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher (11) and teammates celebrate in the closing moments of the team’s 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres in an NHL hockey game in Buffalo, N.Y., on January 30, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Jeffrey T. Barnes

NHL’s road trips looking a lot different in 2021

Travelling players and coaches are allowed in the airport, hotel and arena — that’s it

Brendan Gallagher misses the restaurants, the laughs, the camaraderie and the bonding.

He isn’t alone.

NHL road trips, especially early in the season, are usually chances to get to know new teammates and reconnect with familiar faces.

After a summer that saw 24 clubs sequestered in tightly-controlled bubbles to keep COVID-19 at bay following months of uncertainty, players are grateful to travel and compete in a 56-game campaign set against the pandemic’s backdrop.

They feel fortunate when so many people are stuck at home, or have lost jobs, businesses and loved ones.

There are many differences, however, when comparing 2020-21 to a normal NHL season.

Fans across Canada and in many U.S. markets are barred from arenas to prevent the spread of the virus. The league produced 213 pages of protocols aimed at reducing the risk of exposure.

Those rules are both strict and clear across the board, but nowhere more so than when clubs are on road trips.

Travelling players and coaches are allowed in the airport, hotel and arena — that’s it.

No meals out on the town. No team-building off site. That’s a lot of down time with plenty of two- and three-game series in the same city to reduce travel.

“Little things,” Gallagher, a Montreal Canadiens winger, said of what he missed during his team’s 13 days away from home to open the season.

“Dinner on the road is something that you really look forward to. It’s just good times with the guys, one of the best parts of the year.”

Many team staples on charter flights have been nixed to minimize physical contact.

“I’m really missing the cards on the plane,” Gallagher added with a grin.

“I’m used to beating Tuna (linemate Tomas Tatar) and seeing the anger in his eyes, so I miss that.”

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said some teammates might actually prefer quieter flights with mandatory assigned seating, without the back-and-forth banter as bluffs are made and hands are shown.

“Just some more time on your own,” he said. “People actually have a chance to read a book.”

Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who grew up in Newmarket, Ont., said an early-season trip to Toronto felt strange.

“It’s always a bit of a homecoming to see some friends and family,” he said. “We obviously can’t do that right now.”

“It’s definitely a different vibe,” McDavid added. “Masks on the plane, following all the protocols. We want to be safe first and foremost.”

Teams stay at the same hotel in each NHL city. Players and coaches are not allowed to enter each other’s rooms.

There’s assigned seating at meals with tables spread out to ensure proper distancing.

“It’s just quiet,” Rielly said. “There’s not a whole lot going on. We try to bond over meals and make time for that aspect of things. You have to build that time in.

“It’s just a little bit different.”

Leafs winger Mitch Marner recently mused about packing a karaoke machine as a team activity, but Reilly said it didn’t accompany Toronto on a recent four-game swing through Alberta.

“I think that’s in the works though,” Rielly added.

Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nathan Beaulieu said sequestering on the road — for the public’s safety as well as their own — is an adjustment after years of taking in sights and sounds of other NHL cities.

“That’s one of the treats being in this league,” he said. “It’s a little more taxing on the brain not being able to move around the city and get out and get some air, but we all signed up for this.

“We knew what it was going to be like.”

Staying in one spot does have some team-building benefits, Beaulieu added.

“It’s kind of old-school, just hanging out and telling stories in the lounge,” he said. “It’s actually a great opportunity for the team to bond. You can’t all be at the same table, but I think it helps get a team a little bit closer.

“You’ve got everyone together, not five guys going somewhere and 10 guys going somewhere else.”

Less travel wear and tear is another silver lining, said Gallagher.

“Playing three games in the same city is something really nice,” he said. “The travel is something we can’t really complain about.”

Breaches in health and safety rules are dealt with harshly by the NHL.

The Washington Capitals found out what that meant when captain Alex Ovechkin and three Russian teammates were “unavailable” to play after breaking COVID-19 protocols by mingling in a hotel room unmasked.

Ovechkin missed four games and the club was also fined US$100,000.

“It’s a zero ask,” Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins said of the NHL’s rules. “There are people sacrificing far more than us.

“We have to stay in a really nice hotel and have a whole bunch of space given to us by the hotel, and our sacrifice is we have to put a mask on and not go into restaurants … . I’m not sure that’s any ask at all.”

Winnipeg bench boss Paul Maurice said another plus of the current road environment is the up to six players on each team’s taxi squad are able to integrate more into NHL life.

“You’re going to have some guys that are on the taxi squad that would have been (in the minors) that now get to spend a little time with (Jets stars) Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler, and they get to know these guys a little bit better,” Maurice said.

“There can be some really good interactions.”

Ottawa Senators forward Chris Tierney said despite the restrictions, it’s still good to get out of town with new teammates — of which he has many following a roster overhaul in the nation’s capital.

“You still see them a lot more when you’re on the road than when you’re at home,” Tierney said. “You can’t come in close contact, but you can still have conversations with guys.

“It’s still nice to chat more, spend a little more time at the rink. It’s tough you can’t go outside the hotel to do team-bonding stuff, but we’ve made it work.”

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, whose roster also has a number of new faces, said manufacturing chemistry will be difficult in this unusual season.

“The protocols make it tough for a lot of the things that would organically happen — the players getting together on their own,” he said. “It is a challenge.”

One off-season addition in Toronto is defenceman Zach Bogosian. He’s coming off his first road trip with his new teammates.

“Spending time with the guys, that’s what makes being in this league so special,” he said. “Building those bonds.”

And like so much of the world, they’re just doing things differently in 2021.

___

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The City of Vernon is looking for input into its Climate Action Plan. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)
Vernon voices wanted on climate action plan

Community engagement sought on city plan

Displays and programming have continued at the Vernon Public Art Gallery despite pandemic restrictions. (Lianne Viau file photo)
Support keeps Vernon art groups’ lights on

Despite pandemic restrictions, art gallery and others sustaining the storm

The District of Lake Country saw its number of overdose calls double in 2020 over the previous year. (Black Press file photo)
Overdose calls doubled in Lake Country in 2020: report

The district’s protective services annual report shows there were 47 overdose calls last year

Interior Health reported 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5. (Black Press Files)
Interior Health reports 33 new COVID-19 cases on March 5

Over 300,000 vaccine doses have been administered provincewide.

Vernon husband and wife Jan (top) and Ken Waldon (with B.C. Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin), were among 44 provincial recipients of the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for volunteerism. The awards were presented at a special ceremony earlier in September in Victoria. (Government House Victoria photos)
Fintry heritage site champion loses battle with illness

Ken Waldon was the leading proponent behind the creation of Friends of the Fintry Provincial Park Society

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

C.E. “Ned” Bentley owned a garage on Shaughnessy Avenue, now Lakeshore Drive in Summerland. Bentley later went on to serve on Summerland’s council and was recognized with the Good Citizen Award in 1939. (Summerland Museum photo)
Former Summerland reeve once ran garage

C.E. “Ned” Bentley was a prominent figure in Summerland’s past.

Kevin Haughton is the founder/technologist of Courtenay-based Clearflo Solutions. Scott Stanfield photo
Islander aims Clearflo clean drinking water system at Canada’s remote communities

Entrepreneur $300,000 mobile system can produce 50,000 litres of water in a day, via solar energy

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Princeton Traditional Music Festival, normally held in August, was denied a grant due to COVID. (File photo)
COVID makes some of the 2021 grant decisions for Princeton council

Municipality doles out funds while striving to meet policy

Most Read