The Carolina Hurricanes played just three games this season before having to shut down workouts and postpone four games due to COVID-19 concerns.
They returned to practice this week and are set to play Thursday against Tampa Bay in what amounts to a second try at starting the season, although coach Rod Brind’Amour is missing key names and concerned about conditioning issues following the unexpected layoff.
“You’ve got to deal with it,” Brind’Amour said. “That’s just it. The excuse jar is full. There’s no more, nobody cares, we’ve got to figure it out. And that’s the approach we have to have.”
Carolina hasn’t played since winning at Nashville on Jan. 18, with coronavirus concerns nixing the next night’s rematch in the league’s first in-season postponement following the preseason postponement of the the Dallas Stars’ start to the season. The NHL later postponed Carolina’s two home games against Florida and Tuesday’s home game against Tampa Bay.
In all, six Hurricanes players have appeared on the NHL’s daily COVID-19 unavailability list.
Captain Jordan Staal was the first on Jan. 15, though he was removed Tuesday and was at the Hurricanes’ first full practice that day after the team had been limited to working in small groups a day earlier as the team reopened training facilities.
“Obviously it was three games into the year and we were just really kind of starting to get on a roll,” defenseman Brady Skjei said after Wednesday’s workout. “Guys were excited to come back, that was the biggest thing. We were itching to get back on the ice.”
Four players who went on the COVID-19 list the day of the Nashville postponement were still on it Wednesday afternoon: wingers Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Martinook and Warren Foegele, and defenseman Jaccob Slavin. Winger Jesper Fast, an offseason signee from the New York Rangers, has been on the list since Saturday.
Staal said he battled minor symptoms such as a cough and chills after testing positive, saying he felt “like a leper for a little while there” as the team’s first player to test positive. The NHL has said the team followed required health and safety guidelines before the postponements, and the unavailability list includes a range of factors including a positive test, isolation or quarantines due to contact tracing.
“You start breaking down your steps and then where you were,” Staal said. “Beyond like walking through the Walgreens or the grocery store or stuff like that, it’s not much. . It’s obviously something that’s very easily spreadable through this world and guys try to figure it out. It’s unfortunate I got it and it went the way it did.”
Brind’Amour said the team is “still missing so many guys, it doesn’t quite feel right” at the restarted practices. He said the team spent time during the stoppage reviewing the first three games and keeping players mentally ready.
He expects conditioning issues considering players had to spent part of last week working out on their own. Center Sebastian Aho said Tuesday his home routine included an exercise bike, dumbbells and strength bands.
“I think the biggest apprehension that whole week was: Are there going to be more guys?” Brind’Amour said. “That was always every day, you’re just like: `OK, what’s going on?’ Hopefully that’s behind us.”