Teams adjust to life in NHL bubbles: Feels like ‘permanent road trip’

Kids from the local high school get up to their high jinks.

Kids from the local high school get up to their high jinks.

   Sportsnet

NHL players from 24 teams woke up to a new reality on Monday morning, officially beginning what they hope will be a long tenure in the NHL bubble.

Sunday was a travel day for all 24 return-to-play clubs, with the Eastern Conference teams landing in Toronto and all Western Conference clubs doing the same in Edmonton.

On Monday, it’s back to hockey as players and coaches get acclimated to life in an NHL bubble.

We’re rounding up quotes, photos, and videos throughout the day as first impressions of hub living roll in:

Bubble life is like “a permanent road trip”

In his first media availability from the bubble in Toronto, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy equated bubble living to one really long road trip.

So far, the new normal feels… normal

Winnipeg Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers was asked about his early thoughts on the bubble, and told reporters Monday morning that he doesn’t feel like hub city life will feel too different from other road stints.

“I don’t think it’ll be much different, to be honest,” Ehlers said, adding that the players will be able to do the same things they’d typically do on the road like go for team dinners.

“Of course everybody will miss the fans. They’re a huge part of this sport. But we’ve got to look past that right now and we know that we’ve got the support from back in Winnipeg so we’re excited to get started and show what we’ve got.”

All the strict regulations involved with Phase 3 quickly became part of players’ routines, and Jets head coach Paul Maurice believes it won’t take long for players to adjust again to Phase 4’s protocols.

“There’s a lot of protocol in place but now that part has become routine. Players are very adaptable. They like routine, they’re also very adaptable. Everybody’s got their mask on when they’re supposed to,” he said.

Now that they’re in the bubble, the focus narrows.

“I think coming into the bubble we know what we’re focused on. It’s kind of like an extended road trip. You get into the hotel room and you know you’re going to be here hopefully for a while,” said Jets forward Adam Lowry.

“You just have to get used to some of the protocols. Wearing a mask, make sure you’ve got your credentials on and filling out some of the things you’ve got to fill out before you can enter the rink.”

Canadiens’ Paul Byron ‘pleasantly surprised’ by NHL’s setup

“I think a lot of the guys on the team are pretty excited,” Canadiens forward Paul Byron said from Toronto. “I was a little sceptical about the whole process before this all started: How is it gonna work? How can they prepare this? It didn’t seem like that much time, much notice.”

Byron said he’s “pleasantly surprised” upon arrival.

“It seems like they’ve got a pretty good setup for us,” he said. “The food’s been good. The space is fine so far. I think everyone’s pretty excited to start the hockey games … now that we’re in the hotel it’s nice to be able to just focus on the games and ready to start the grind.”

New surroundings “starting to feel like home” for Tkachuk

Flames Winger Matthew Tkachuk, when asked for his first impression of hub city living in Edmonton, said “so far, so good.”

“It’s a lot better than I think everyone was expecting,” said Flames winger Matthew Tkachuk. “They’ve got some cool stuff on the way for us, everything’s super organised and it’s super easy for us to get around.”

Tkachuk and captain Mark Giordano commented that the Flames’ gesture of putting family photos in the rooms of players made their new digs start to “feel like home.”

“We plan on being here for a long time, so we better get used to it,” he said.

Breakfast of champions

Carolina Hurricanes forward Nino Niederreiter confirmed Monday morning that this is not, in fact, the continental breakfast many hotel-goers are accustomed to:

Double-Double, right at your door:

Player and coach media availabilities get an upgrade

Just like throughout the previous return-to-play phases, press conferences and media availabilities will continue to be conducted via Zoom. Designated press conference areas make things look like a little more normal.

Ryan Reaves lets his mask do the (trash-)talking

As part of life in the hub, all players, personnel, and bubble staff must wear masks while in any common areas and while heading to and from the rink. We didn’t know it was a competition, but Vegas Golden Knights forward Ryan Reaves has already won the mask game.

(Ryan Reaves does not forget.)

Masked Hart Trophy finalist Artemi Panarin is out here keeping things light on Day 1:

The Capitals, meanwhile, made a very dramatic entrance:

Also, hand sanitiser can also be found at every turn:

Practice is just a short bus ride away

Teams travel together, via the team bus, from the hotel to the practice facility:

Family time from afar

Professional athletes already deal with the reality of being on the road a lot, and life in the bubble means even more time away from families. Nashville Predators forward Matt Duchene made sure he can still keep up with story time with his son, Beau:

Canadiens’ care packages bring a touch of home

In an effort to make their new digs feel more like home, teams set up some personal touches in each player’s room — family photos, books, and other mementos awaited the Habs:

Not everyone has arrived just yet

There are still a few players who have yet to arrive in the hub cities with their teams. While Bruins forward David Pastrnak travelled with the team after missing the majority of training camp in Boston, Ondrej Kase did not. Head coach Bruce Cassidy says Kase “will meet us later.”

The Tampa Bay Lightning announced Sunday that Victor Hedman also stayed back in Florida for an extra few days due to a personal matter. He’ll travel to Toronto on Friday, and is expected to be ready for the Lightning’s round-robin games. Tampa general manager Julien BriseBois told reporters that the team worked out a protocol to accommodate Hedman’s request.

“He’s going to stay back in Tampa this week with Marc Lambert, our director of sports performance,” BriseBois explained. “We’re essentially extending their Phase 3 where they will continue to test every day. [Hedman] will be able to skate at Amalie Arena and get some off-ice workouts.”

The Maple Leafs’ and Oilers’ facilities will be getting multiple makeovers

Well, here’s a jarring sight:

The sights, sounds, and joy of hockey have all returned

This is the content we need right now:

Did we just become best friends?

This experience of all living side by side for weeks (months?) will no doubt bring teams closer together.

But opponents? As much as we want there to be epic mini-sticks showdowns in the hallway, a la minor hockey tournaments, so far the sentiment from players is that they’ll probably be keeping their distance from opponents (you know, in addition to social distancing).

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe shared his point of view of hub life during an interview on Tim & Sid Monday evening, and said while it’s inevitable that there will be the odd shared elevator ride with an opponent or a crossing of the paths during mealtimes, the way the hotel is set up — each team on a separate floor, with team-specific lounges included — clubs are mostly able to remain separate from one another.

Let the bubble hockey fashion show begin

With relaxed dress codes for summer hockey, most teams are giving players free rein on their arena-arrival style (no suits required!). We’re also so ready for some practice-look coordination, like these Day One tees from the Blue Jackets: