Job No. 1 for Barry Trotz on Day No. 1 in the hub city bubble was getting his Islanders used to their new normal.
“It’s just getting used to your surroundings and the protocols and where you can walk to, the rink,” the coach said from Toronto on Monday after the Islanders had their first practice in their quarantined environment. “Really, it’s not much different than coming into a new city or a new arena or a new area and trying to figure out where you can go. And just follow protocols. The NHL has done an excellent job.”
The Islanders, who concluded two weeks of Training Camp 2.0 at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow on Saturday, traveled to Toronto on Sunday. All 30 players on the active roster practiced Monday on the Olympic-size rink at Ford Performance Centre. They will face the Rangers in an exhibition game Wednesday night and open their best-of-five qualifying series against the Panthers on Saturday, with all games at Scotiabank Arena.
The optimism the NHL has in being on the cusp of restarting a season that was paused on March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic contrasted sharply Monday with Major League Baseball. After 13 members of the Miami Marlins’ traveling party tested positive, the Yankees’ game in Philadelphia, where the Marlins played the Phillies on Sunday, and the Marlins’ home opener against the Orioles were postponed.
“I think the closest comparison to us would be the NBA and their bubble situation,” Matt Martin said. “For the most part, I think things have gone pretty well for them. Their bubble situation is pretty strong. The MLB is a little bit of a different ballgame to what we’re doing. They’re going home. They’re traveling to other cities. Their exposure is a little different than us.
“I think the NHL and the NHL [Players' Association] have done a great job of giving us a safe environment,” Martin added. “I think they’ve made our health and safety a priority.”
The NHL reported Monday that only two unidentified players tested positive during the two weeks of formal training camps for the 24 teams participating in the NHL’s return-to-play format. There were no positive tests in the week before the teams departed for the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton.
“I think everybody understands the risk with the virus,” Brock Nelson said. “You’re not only risking yourself but other people and family. So you try to limit your contact with outside parties, and the league did a pretty good job for us. As a team, back in New York, we were tested every day to kind of make sure we had control of everything.''
The NHL’s hope now is that with all 24 teams ensconced in hub city bubbles, the risk of future COVID-19 outbreaks will be markedly lessened.
Trotz described the precise scheduling in the bubble for practices and bus departures and compared the experience to an Olympics or World Championships tournament.
“I’m about getting comfortable and getting acclimated,” he said. “We’re here to work. We’re not here to have a vacation.”