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

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

Kieran Christison, manager of Daybreak Farms in Terrace inspects eggs on Oct. 30, 2020. Christison wants to transition to a zero waste, cage-free facility. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Daybreak Farms aiming to achieve zero-waste, cage-free facility

Kieran Christison, manager, presented the farm’s future plans to Terrace city council

Mercedes Trigo, assistant manager, said that Trigo’s Lifestyle Store in Terrace has experienced four broken windows and an attempted break-in recently, leaving her feeling unsupported by bystanders and the police. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
Trigo’s management frustrated by property damage, theft

In a little over a month there have been four broken windows and an attempted break-in at the store

Two RCMP officers have been recognized for their actions in responding to an incident involving a man with a weapon at 4501 Park Ave. on the afternoon of April 27, 2020. RCMP say it was an isolated incident and there is no danger to the general public. (Jake Wray photo)
Terrace RCMP officers recognized for acts of bravery

Two involved in arrest of armed suspect

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Coldstream students took over the Your Letters page in the April 9, 2021, edition of the Vernon Morning Star to offer advice to adults about COVID-19. Interior Health took notice and offered their praise. (Vernon Morning Star)
‘We can get rid of COVID together’: B.C. kids share heartwarming advice

Grade 2 and 3 classes from a North Okanagan elementary took over Letters page of this Black Press newspaper

Most Read