For Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe, Sunday’s entry into the NHL bubble was not unlike a typical road trip.
He wheeled his luggage into a hotel lobby — though this time it was the Fairmont Royal York in downtown Toronto — picked up his room key at the front desk and headed up to his room to unpack. In his words, the process was “usual and simple.”
Monday, however, was a much different story.
In the elevator lobbies and at the breakfast area, it quickly became clear how unusual and complex the NHL’s return-to-play living situation is. Seven of the 12 remaining Eastern teams are at the Royal York and all 12 conduct practices at the Ford Performance Centre.
Seeing hoards of NHLers in these confined spaces, especially given that they’re about to battle each other for the rights to the Stanley Cup, was admittedly a “shock to the system” for Keefe.
At the same time, the simple fact that it’s actually happening is a source of comfort.
“The logistics that are at play here are incredible, when you think of it [with] how quickly this all came together,” Keefe said Monday during an appearance on Tim & Sid. “Going over to Ford Performance Centre for practice today and all of a sudden you’re sharing the facility with 11 other NHL teams. It was quite a sight.”
The scene at Ford Performance Centre inspired memories from a different chapter of his hockey life.
“There certainly is a little bit of a feel that kind of brings you back to your days in minor hockey,” he said.
The hotel in particular might be the source of the most unique moments. Each team’s players are staying on separate floors, but some floors contain staffers from multiple teams. Keefe has already found himself, on multiple occasions, entering an elevator with personnel from opposing teams.
Everyone wears masks, though, and elevators are limited to two people per ride. In high-traffic times, such as breakfast, Keefe said he has sometimes opted to take the stairs — “which is not a bad thing for a guy like me,” he joked.
Elevator strategy aside, there will soon be meaningful hockey to be played. That means configuring the roster, which still may or may not include the intriguing teen prospect, Nick Robertson.
“In terms of what he needs to do [to get ice time], of course we need him to feel comfortable,” Keefe said. “We’re not in a situation here where we’re going to force him into the lineup, by any means. We need to make sure that he is prepared, he is ready, and we’re not putting him in a situation that he’s not prepared for — especially considering what’s at stake.”
What’s at stake falls flat at times when compared to the bigger picture — the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, with a stark reminder coming Monday in the form of an outbreak within the Miami Marlins organization.
The NHL, meanwhile, learned that zero of its 4,256 COVID-19 tests administered in the final week of Phase 3 came back positive.
It’s results like that that Keefe is focused on, as bubble life continues and the real games begin.
“I think that the results speak for themselves in terms of the protocols that have been put in place and the commitment that the players and staff members have had to be responsible,” Keefe said. “And do all they can to remain healthy and come into this bubble situation as healthy as possible — and remain diligent to keep it that way.”