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As the Detroit Red Wings prepare for the 2021 season, a look around the NHL shows just how tenuous it will be.
Already the pandemic has forced the Dallas Stars to delay the start of their season after six players and two staff members tested positive for COVID-19, the NHL has announced. On Saturday, the NHL reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins canceled practice and a scrimmage out of “an abundance of caution” over COVID-19 concerns.
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Those teams, because they were part of last summer’s playoff bubble, started training camps Jan. 3. The Wings have been underway since Dec. 31, first taking to the ice on New Year's Day.
Players wear masks except when on the ice, and workouts are limited to small groups. Every attempt has been made to ensure a secure environment (all media interviews, for example, are conducted via Zoom), but players realize how precarious it will be to play even a 56-game schedule.
“It’s going to be hard,” Anthony Mantha said. “You never know where you can catch COVID. But we are a week away from the start of the season, so for me personally, I’m trying to stay away from anyone that could have been in contact, if it’s at their work, or whatever. You’re just trying to make the details not to catch anything. Obviously if it gets in the room, it spreads super quickly. Probably that’s what happened in Dallas.
“It’s the life we live in right now and we’re going to have to live with it for this season. I know it’s going to be hard, but, it’s going to be a lot of sacrifice from players and staff and anyone around the team.”
A week into camp, coach Jeff Blashill has used the term “unfit” when asked about players who have not been practicing, a group that includes Bobby Ryan, Darren Helm and Evgeny Svechnikov. That’s what the NHL and NHLPA wants teams to say. That, however, will change when the regular season begins Wednesday, at which point the league will require teams to disclose when a player has tested positive for COVID-19.
“These are different times,” Blashill said. “There are multiple things at plays. You have your regular injuries and you have your COVID concerns. We are going to have to roll with the punches. There might be times when the schedule changes. There might be times where guys that are supposed to be in the lineup all of a sudden aren’t in the lineup on the same day that you’re playing a game. We have to be ready to handle whatever comes our way.”
Per NHL guidelines, a player who tests positive has to follow quarantine guidelines in accordance with local health regulations.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: How the Detroit Red Wings are fighting COVID-19 as season approaches