WASHINGTON (AP) — Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon has cleared NHL coronavirus protocols is set to make his season debut Tuesday night against the Washington Capitals.
MacKinnon tested positive for the coronavirus last week and had been in the league’s COVID-19 protocols since Oct. 12. The three-time MVP finalist needed to test negative twice to be cleared to rejoin the team and flew by himself to get to the East Coast for the start of the Avalanche’s road trip.
Coach Jared Bednar confirmed after his team’s morning skate that MacKinnon would be in the lineup.
“I’m pumped to play,” MacKinnon said. “I didn’t think I’d even get two negatives. I thought I’d have to wait the 10 days and miss the first two games of the road trip and probably the third one, too.”
Instead, MacKinnon is expected to center Colorado’s first line between fellow All-Star Mikko Rantanen and former Capitals winger Andre Burakovsky. Captain Gabriel Landeskog is serving the second and final game of his suspension for boarding, so MacKinnon’s return is welcome for the Avalanche.
“I would say it’s a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t expecting him (to play) tonight,” Bednar said. “He would have needed the two tests that were still out, and both of them would have had to have been negative. It just so happens they both were, so here he is.”
MacKinnon missed Colorado’s first two games of the season. Because he is vaccinated, the 26-year-old’s absence was considered a hockey-related injury and he was paid during his time away.
“I didn’t feel anything,” MacKinnon said. “I was good. I was working out the whole time at home, doing what I can to stay in shape. It’s just unfortunate. I didn’t infect anybody in my family. Nobody got sick, no teammates got sick, so that’s lucky, I guess.”
Colorado defenseman Jack Johnson is also back after missing the previous game after testing positive. Johnson got his second negative test back Monday in time to fly with the team.
Commissioner Gary Bettman said on opening night last week that the NHL had only four unvaccinated players out of roughly 700 on active rosters. He acknowledged the pandemic will still play a factor this season, such as vaccinated players missing games, and stressed the need for vigilance across the league’s 32 teams.