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

HOPE Okanagan’s Stay at Home Gala will raise funds to help serve Kelowna and Vernon’s vulnerable. (HOPE Okanagan)
Non-profit hosts virtual gala to support Okanagan’s vulnerable

HOPE Okanagan wants to raise awareness and support for those struggling in the streets

Summerhill Pyramid Winery. (Contributed)
Fear of ‘hotel in a vineyard’ prompts Kelowna council to defer culinary school decision

City council needs assurance the educational facility proposed at Summerhill Winery will be used as stated

A fire at the TD Canada Trust bank in Lake Country overnight closed the branch down Tuesday, March 2. (Lake Country Fire Department)
Suspicious fire closes Lake Country bank

RCMP investigating overnight blaze at ATM

An individual experiencing homelessness stands on Leon Avenue in downtown Kelowna after receiving supplies from the Gospel Mission outreach team. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
New City of Kelowna shelter strategy in the works

The community shelter plan will be based on four core principles: choice, healing, community and safety

Vernon Jubilee Hospital McMurtry-Baerg Cancer Centre staff Cassie McDonald, from left, Michele Dyke, MaryBeth Beck, Heather Heitman and Madison Lockhart display the Starlight Comfort Kits<ins> that have been distributed in various departments at the hospital, offering entertainment and distraction for young patients during stressful </ins><ins>situations</ins>. (VJHF photo)
Vernon hospital’s young patients receive comfort from new kits

Starlight Comfort Kits are designed to help young children cope with stressful hospital visits

A health-care worker looks at a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Palais de Congress site as Quebec begins mass vaccinations based on age across the province, Monday, March 1, 2021 in Montreal.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Nearly 1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses arriving in Canada this week: Anand

Anita Anand says she’s received assurances from the vaccine manufacturer

Ice rescue on Shannon Lake. Phil McLachlan, Kelowna Capital News.
‘Ice season is over’; West Kelowna crews rescue man from icy lake

A man in his 60’s was pulled from the waters of Shannon Lake after falling through

Kelowna’s lakefront visitor centre is one of 130 around the province. Tourism businesses have been hardest hit by COVID-19 restrictions on travel. (Destination B.C.)
Tourism, small business getting COVID-19 help, B.C. minister says

$300M grant program has delivered $50 million so far

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The incident happened in downtown Castlegar. Photo: Betsy Kline
Castlegar teen recounts stabbing after stranger breaks into grandmother’s house

The unnamed teen survived a terrifying attack Feb. 21

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Ponderosa Primary Care Centre in Penticton is considered a model for care clinics going forward by the South Okanagan Division of Family Practice. (Monique Tamminga)
Mayor of Oliver calls on province to address South Okanagan doctor shortage

‘None of the people in our acquaintance that we’ve come to know here in Oliver have their own doctor’

(Black Press file photo)
Agassiz boy, 11, dies from ‘extensive injuries’: Homicide team

Agassiz RCMP were called out Friday to assist with a child in medical distress

Dr. Amit Desai of St. Francis Hospital receives a COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 17. (Photo courtesy of CHI Franciscan)
B.C. has now vaccinated more people from COVID-19 than total confirmed cases

B.C. has reached a milestone, vaccinating roughly 1.6% of its population from the coronavirus

Most Read