A few nights ago, Jordan and Marc Staal played virtual darts.
“It’s a weird situation for everyone right now,” Marc, a defenceman with the New York Rangers, said during a teleconference call arranged by the NHL. It was one of two held on Thursday, and the first since the league went silent on March 12 to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“It surprised me how quickly it occurred,” Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux told reporters who submitted questions to players online. “It got me a little nervous, and made me want to get back to my family.
“It’s a pretty crazy time.”
It is only two weeks since the decision was made to suspend play, but seems so much longer. Most of us are keeping distance from others to avoid getting COVID-19. Many are in isolation, fearful of the illness that shares symptoms with the flu but is far more dangerous.
Lives are being lost. Nothing is normal.
“Mentally, it is hard not knowing if and when we are going to come back,” Giroux said. He was on a video call with the two Staal brothers – Jordan plays for the Carolina Hurricanes – and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
A second was held later with Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, Nick Foligno of Columbus, the Islanders’ Anders Lee and P.K. Subban of New Jersey.
“It is getting to a point now where you feel that things just aren’t right,” said Foligno, the Blue Jackets’ captain.
NHL teams were down to about their last dozen regular-season games. Playoff positions were on the line. And then everything stopped. Crosby is at home in Pittsburgh, trying his best to stay fit in isolation. Like most players, he usually relies on his team’s training facilities, so he doesn’t have much equipment at home. He rides an exercise bike every day, and does push-ups.
“Things are kind of old-school,” the Pittsburgh superstar said. “You just try to make the best of what you’ve got.”
Said Foligno, “We are kind of going back to the Rocky days where you are punching a cow.”
Ovechkin is more fortunate. He has a small gym at home in Washington and has still been able to work out with his personal trainer directing him from a safe distance. Ovechkin also runs, plays a bit of soccer and rides a bike.
“There are times when I don’t feel like it, but he makes me,” Ovechkin said.
He was two goals shy of scoring 50 or more in a ninth successive season when games were stopped.
“Of course, I would like to score 50, but that is not the most important thing right now,” Ovechkin said. “You have to think about people, your family and the fans. It’s a scary situation. The first thing on my mind is being safe.”
Players have been talking to one another in group chats and by text.
Some of the Flyers tried to used Facebook Live this week but it turned into a disaster.
“It didn’t go very well,” Giroux said. “Everyone started screaming and nobody could hear one another.”
Opinions on what should be done if the season is resumed vary largely depending on where one’s team sits in the standings.
“Probably you try to get in as many games as you can, but I wouldn’t mind starting with the playoffs,” said Crosby, whose Penguins are third in the Metropolitan Division behind the Capitals and Flyers.
The Rangers are two points out of a wild-card position in the Eastern Conference.
“We want to keep the integrity of what we are doing intact,” Marc Staal responded. “We definitely should not do what Sidney said.”
His brother, whose team would get one of the wild-card berths as it stands, jumped in.
“Screw the Rangers,” Jordan said, taking a good-natured swipe at his sibling. “You can speculate and try to be fair but there is always going to be somebody [upset] about it.”
Players chirped one another about what they least miss.
“Jordan and Sidney cheat in faceoffs,” Giroux complained. “I don’t miss that.”
“If Claude stopped talking in the faceoff circle all the time, he’d probably win a lot more,” Jordan Staal said. Even if it was a for short while, it seemed as though hockey was back. There were smiles on players’ faces.
Subban talked about a potential game show he is working on in co-ordination with the NHL.
“At this time, I think it is important to bring some joy and smiles to our fans,” he said. “Sports has the ability to bring people together.”
Nobody is losing sight of what is happening in the world, however.
“I see images of the empty streets in New York City and it is surreal,” Marc Staal said. “You go to the grocery store and you can feel that everyone is on edge and trying to avoid one another.
“It is a crazy time.”