Used to playing through aches and illness, NHLers know COVID-19 is different

Dave Tippett remembers keeping injuries from trainers on numerous occasions during his playing days.

A cracked bone? Good to go. What about a sore shoulder? No problem.

It’s well-known NHLers battle through aches, pains and even illness. Almost like clockwork, a flu bug tears through more than a few locker rooms every season. Players often attempt to soldier on without missing any time, especially when the games matter most.

In the era of COVID-19, however, some of that old the definition of “toughness” is being thrown out the window.

Players and coaches are keenly aware that if they’re feeling even the slightest bit off — and there are a laundry list of symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus, from chills to headaches to fatigue and weakness — it needs to be reported immediately.

“Doesn’t matter if you’re a tough hockey player or not,” said Tippett, now the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. ”I had a lot of games where I hid a broken finger or something like that from doctors. I didn’t want them to know because they wouldn’t let me play.

“But when you get sick, you’re going to have to tell people. That’s just the way of the new world.”

The NHL opened training camps this week as part of its plan to kickstart a campaign that was suspended in mid-March by the pandemic. Players and staff are getting tested every 48 hours — they’re not currently quarantined — and that will be kick up another notch to once a day when the 24 teams involved in the resumption head to the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto, where they’ll be kept in a bubble separate from the general public.

Vancouver Canucks captain Bo Horvat said the mentality of the past has been turned on its head when it comes to illness.

“As hockey players you want to be in every single game, you want to play, and you want to help your teammate, and you want to be a difference-maker,” he said. “Before you played through colds, you played through injuries, you played through sickness and stuff like that.

“You have to step back and think a little bit now. It’s a different animal, this virus. You have to be not only cautious of yourself and how you’re feeling, but the people around you, too. It’s not just your teammates, it’s the medical staff, it’s the trainers, it’s everybody you’re around every single day, and even obviously opposing teams. You’ve got to think of everybody. You’ve got to be very cautious.”

Edmonton Oilers centre and NHL leading scorer Leon Draisaitl said that caution is going to become the new norm.

“Every hockey player has played through certain things and we’ve all played through a flu or sickness or whatever it is,” he said. ”But now with this going around, it makes it a little more dangerous.

“You have to be careful.”

Winnipeg Jets centre Andrew Copp said hockey’s team-first mentality should kick in if someone isn’t feeling right.

“You hope that everyone’s pretty dialled in, and not only for everyone’s health and safety, but for the team too,” he said. ”If this guy gets it, he’s not playing. Hopefully everyone can realize that we’re all making a lot of sacrifices here.”

The NHL hasn’t said how many positive tests would constitute the “uncontrolled outbreak” listed in its return-to-play protocol that could conceivably shut the league’s resumption down. There’s a difference between cases being spread out and a cluster of infections on a team or teams.

The league said earlier this week 30 players tested positive for COVID-19 during voluntary workouts at team facilities between June 8 and July 12. Another 13 positive results came outside of the league’s protocol, while 10 other players tested positive in the spring. Training camps opened Monday, but individuals and teams won’t be named moving forward with regards to positive tests.

It’s no secret players have hid countless injuries in the past, and the league has been criticized heavily for how it dealt with the concussion issue, but Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to NHLPA executive director Don Fehr, said the virus is different territory.

“If concussions were contagious, I think players would feel differently about it,” Schneider said. “Guys certainly understand the notion that if they are not honest with symptoms or how they might feel, that they put their entire team in jeopardy.

“There’s going to be a huge onus on the players here in (training camp) to make sure that they’re taking care of themselves and looking out for their teammates — going to the rink, going home, going to the grocery store, social distancing, wearing mask, washing your hands. All the things that all of us are practising every single day now.”

Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said it simply comes down to common sense is in this new reality.

“It’s on the players and our staff to be honest with each other,” he said. ”You don’t want to put anyone else at risk.

“You want to do what’s best for them.”

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