No professional sports league shut down quite like the National Hockey League did when cases of Covid-19 started to surge across the planet due to the Omicron variant. The league was forced to postpone the season multiple days before they could forge ahead and continue playing. There had been multiple outbreaks on a plethora of teams and the league did the responsible thing by pressing the pause button.
The Red Wings were one of the hardest hit teams by the virus, but they get set to return to action with more and more players coming out of the league’s protocols. The team are in no hurry to rush anyone back to the ice before they are ready to though.
“If they tell me they are not comfortable, they are just not ready to, then they wouldn’t play,” said Detroit’s head coach Jeff Blashill, via the Detroit Free Press. “But our expectation having spoken to all of them, is that as guys come off, they will be inserted into practice and then into the lineup.”
It has been a difficult time for the players having to undergo constant testing and living with the anxiety of knowing you could test positive at any moment.
“You’re thinking about it constantly,” said Dylan Larkin. “There is a little bit of anxiousness with testing every day, showing up to the rink, wondering if you’re going to be done for 10 days or you’re going to be able to play.”
“You have to be a good pro. You have to be ready for whatever comes at you. But it is very difficult and it can be frustrating at times, I’m sure, for the guys that test positive and don’t have any symptoms, but there are protocols and we just try to follow them. But it is a very tough situation showing up and not knowing if you’re going to be positive or negative.”
Fortunately, booster shots are becoming more readily available for everyone including players who have had more of an opportunity to get it while the league was shut down.
“Some guys did and certainly it was offered,” Blashill said. “If the booster can help us keep people on the ice, players have been encouraged to do that, with the end goal of trying to stay eligible to play and not contract the virus.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt there’s an anxiety around guys who haven’t tested positive of almost waiting to feel like you are going to test positive, as transmissible as this has been. You are nervous and you feel every little thing with your body that isn’t 100% perfect and you wonder if you’re going to test positive. That’s not an easy thing, but it’s not unique to us, nor is the challenge of being off for a number of days unique to us. Both of those things, we are going to have to make sure we handle and that we have that mental toughness.”
It remains to be seen how the remainder of the season will play out and if the league will be forced to shut down again, but the Red Wings are certainly hoping not. As the pandemic continues to cause problems across the globe, professional sports leagues will need to continue to navigate through it with various policies and protocols in place.