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His smile covered by a light-blue surgical mask, Jacob Trouba’s eyes shone as the needle went into his left arm.

The New York Rangers gave players, coaches and staff a day off this week so they could get vaccinated against COVID-19.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to get that vaccine,” Trouba said.

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As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of three million a day in the United States, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of its 31 teams are based on Canada. While the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball are relaxing virus protocols when a certain percentage of each team is fully vaccinated, the top hockey league in the world is facing a severe outbreak with the Vancouver Canucks and grappling with vaccine inequity on opposite sides of the border.

“It all comes down to the government guidelines, and it’s out of our control,” U.S.-born Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck said. “You definitely see the States getting out the vaccinations well and it’s very good, very nice, and it’d be nice to see that in Canada, but I don’t know the logistics of it all.”

Canada has lagged in vaccinations because, like many countries, it lacks the ability to manufacture vaccines and has had to rely on the global supply chain. While hope is on the way with 45 million doses expected to be available by July for the country’s 38 million people, cases in Canada are surging, and the NHL is not immune.

The Canucks reported 21 players and four staff members tested positive for the virus and another is considered a close contact. Team physician Jim Bovard called the outbreak “a stark reminder of how quickly the virus can spread and its serious impact, even among healthy, young athletes.”

The NHL got around the U.S.-Canada border being closed to non-essential travel by making this 56-game season divisional play only, with the seven Canadian teams facing only each other.

Because of that split, hockey has mirrored the evolving virus situations in the U.S. and Canada. From Jan. 13 to March 31, players on Canadian teams accounted for just 103 of the 1,361 appearances on the NHL COVID protocol list – with just one of a season-high 59 players Feb. 12.

Since April 1, players on Canadian teams have accounted for 115 of 135 instances, including 23 of 25 Wednesday.

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As of Thursday, roughly one-third of the U.S. general population had received at least one dose and 19.4 per cent is fully vaccinated, compared with just 11.9 per cent with one shot and 1.8 per cent fully vaccinated in Canada.

“There’s two different countries, different roles, different situations,” Swedish-born Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund said. “Nothing we can do about it, really. So, we just have to wait for our turn.”

The Associated Press asked all 31 NHL teams how many players, coaches and staff had been partly or fully vaccinated and if any had refused a vaccine, and none would provide specific details. Among the responses, the Tampa Bay Lightning said some players and staff had been vaccinated, the Rangers said many were getting a shot, the Detroit Red Wings said a majority and the Columbus Blue Jackets a vast majority of players and coaches had received at least one dose.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league is “monitoring, but [the] vaccination process is very much team by team and market by market.” Along with the league, the Players’ Association sent a memo to members and is working to educate them and answer questions about vaccination, which is being handled by individual teams.

Edmonton Oilers coach Dave Tippett, who has not yet been vaccinated, said the team doctor this week reiterated the importance of adhering to protocols, especially because of Vancouver’s outbreak.

“We’ve been concerned since the start of the year,” Tippett said. “We want to try to keep the virus out if we can if at all possible, so you recognize when other teams are going through it, you want to try and do whatever you can to stay away from it.”

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