A season interrupted by injury has given Morgan Rielly perspective on hockey. The global pandemic has provided him with perspective on life.
The Maple Leafs defenceman and alternate captain is in North Vancouver during this pause to hockey, all other sports and normal life.
“There is no escaping it,” Rielly said Thursday on a conference call with journalists arranged by the team. “It has been challenging at times when it comes to coping, but it is the same for everybody. We are all dealing with it. We all have our own ways.”
The 26-year-old returned to Toronto’s lineup on March 10 after missing two months with a broken foot. Two days later, the NHL joined the NBA in suspending games to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, the illness that causes COVID-19.
“As eight weeks go by, you work really hard to come back,” he said. “Then you play one game, and there is a pause. It is not really ideal, but I think I’d be going crazy if I hadn’t played since early January [at this point]."
He has had considerable time to mull the Maple Leafs’ topsy-turvy season. A poor start led to Mike Babcock being fired as head coach. There was a short rally under the newly appointed Sheldon Keefe. They held down a playoff spot when games were halted. But the only thing they have been consistent at is inconsistency throughout.
“During a pause like this, there is lots of time to process what’s happened this year," Rielly said. "As a team, it is important that we use this down time to take a look in the mirror. When play resumes, we have to be better.
"Deep inside, you have to take it personally and have to help the team be more consistent.”
He is in quarantine in British Columbia with his girlfriend, Tessa Virtue. He and the Olympic-champion ice dancer have dated quietly for a while.
On Jan. 8, they came out together to attend Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s annual blue and white gala at Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York.
It created a Canada-wide buzz. Who needs Harry and Meghan when we’ve got such an appealing couple? Both universally liked athletes. Fans of both approve.
In February, Virtue left a heart-eyes emoji on an Instagram post of Rielly looking dapper in a suit. A while later, Rielly’s teammate, Auston Matthews, addressed the blossoming romance on the popular Barstool Sports podcast Spittin Chiclets. It seems Auston’s nose was getting a bit out of joint as his buddy, Mo, continuously dodged him.
“I was pretty upset with him for a while,” Matthews said then. “He kind of kept it quiet. He didn’t really come out and say [anything]. I got kind of rattled at him. Then I met her and she is an absolute sweetheart so I told him, ‘All right, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.’”
A little more than a week ago, Virtue did an interview on Instagram Live posted by Arkells frontman Max Kerman. At one point, Rielly ducked in over her shoulder to say hi, and then later sat beside her and wrapped one arm around her.
They let on that they were working out together, had done core training on FaceTime with a trainer from Toronto, and were enjoying long walks and hikes and things at home.
This is pleasing and fun in a world where we are all social distancing.
“We are both kind of in it together,” Rielly said when asked about his paramour. He let on that they have barbecue steak and chicken dinners, but little else. “We are trying to keep each other sane. I don’t want to say too much about it, but … I’m glad in a time like this that I’m not alone. We all need somebody to talk to.”
He was watching basketball at home in Toronto on March 11 when the news broke that the NBA was suspending games. He and other players reported to Scotiabank Arena the next day for a morning skate.
Instead, they were all sent home. By mid-afternoon, the NHL and virtually all remaining professional leagues had followed the NBA’s lead.
“Things became very real,” Rielly says.
He says his perspective has changed.
“You go for groceries in the morning and realize you have to get there early enough to be able to pick something up,” he says. "Every week there is a new experience. You go to the grocery now and there is a line out the door.
"It’s scary, but we have to remember we are all in this together. Just being inside for this long is new territory for all of us. You have to do what you can do to keep yourself in a good state of mind.”
He hopes to play hockey again soon
“A point comes where it is not in our control,” he says. "I can tell you the players miss playing and want to play. It is strange not being out there. Hopefully, the time comes where it will happen.”