You probably can’t spend two minutes with an NHL coach without hearing the words “accountability” and “no excuses.” There must be multiple dressing rooms with one or both of these terms painted prominently on the wall.
But following his team’s first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs victory over the Calgary Flames, there was Dallas Stars coach and hockey lifer Rick Bowness offering up an alibi after a crazy game that saw both squads come apart at different times before the Stars grabbed a wild 7-3 victory. The first question Bowness was asked on Thursday night had nothing to do with living conditions. Rather than pick up the thread, the 65-year-old went his own way.
The bottom line: Bubble life ain’t easy.
“You know what, let me say something,” he began. “People don’t understand how hard it is, this bubble. It’s great that we’re playing and the league is back, but it’s tough. I think that game, it was a mess for both sides. It’s tough to explain, but I don’t think people understand how tough it is living in this bubble. The league, give them a lot of credit, they’ve done the best job they can, everyone is handling it as best we can, but it’s tough.”
The idea that it’s a bit of a battle within the bubbles is nothing new. After a couple weeks away from his family, Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made the decision to leave his team and return home. On a lighter — and tastier — note, Richaun Holmes of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings crossed a bubble boundary to pick up some chicken wings.
The heart wants what the taste buds dictate.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Louis Domingue outlined an experience with some perks cut by tough personal moments in a behind-the-scenes video that offered a glimpse into his day-to-day. The 28-year-old gave a big thumbs up to things like the suite at Edmonton’s Rogers Place that’s available to players to watch any live action they want — complete with the option to enjoy some beverages and a bite while taking it all in. He loves sitting in the sun with fellow Francophone Antoine Roussel enjoying the “best coffee in the bubble” as they watch games on a big outdoor screen and, as Domingue puts it, “break it down and hot stove.” His favourite spot is a mini shooting rink inside the Oilers’ extended dressing room where he can forget his usual existence as the guy being fired upon and, instead, crack a few pucks himself.
But even for a well-adjusted person making the best of an abnormal situation, there are taxing aspects. Hanging out in the hotel suite with your Canucks buddies, beating them at the French board game Super Tock or playing a round of Mario Kart on the Nintendo 64 is one thing; only seeing your wife and children via screens is another.
Domingue does what he can, drawing pictures to aid in the nightly bedtime storytelling to Mila and Liam. But nothing is the same as being there and, as he knows, there’s another side to this equation that is struggling at least as much as him.
“I bet you it’s even harder for the people waiting for you at home,” he said.
While NHL bubble life is restricted almost exclusively to league employees, the NBA did allow a limited number of independent media inside the walls of its Walt Disney World temporary home. New York Times writer Marc Stein has been in Orlando covering the action for more than a month now and, speaking on The Daily podcast, he described some of the restrictions governing life there. If NBA players get together for a game of socially distanced cards, the deck must be tossed at the conclusion of the activity. Playing table tennis is okay, but singles matches only; you can’t have two guys whipping rackets around at the same end of the table.
As for the note-takers and mic-holders, Stein portrayed a bit of a “Groundhog Day” existence.
Every morning he wakes up and logs his temperature and oxygen saturation reading into a league-issued health app. Assuming you’re all good, your info is inputted into a thick wristband that you must swipe at various access points to get around — including the spot where your nose and throat swabs occur.
Then there are the proximity sensors everyone has as part of their credentials. These little guys — as if out of a sci-fi movie — must be charged overnight and beep if you spend more than 10 seconds within six feet of someone else wearing one. That’s all well and good when you’re in your room or walking around the roughly one-square mile media members have to roam. But when you’re in a common space for post-game interviews or taking the bus to an arena, it can get loud.
“Our proximity sensors tend to create quite a symphony of chirping,” Stein said.
Though bubble life can feel stifling at times, it has done nothing to quell the creative juices flowing in Domingue. Among the characters he draws for his kids at bedtime is Swiper, a mischievous fox from the world of Dora the Explorer who tries to steal treasured items from those around him.
It’s easy to imagine everyone existing in a bubble right now feeling like Swiper has snagged a few things from them.