NHLers describe what the first weekend without hockey was like

Chris Johnston joined Sportsnet Central and spoke about the latest CDC recommendation of cancelling events of 50 people or more, and how that affects the NHL going forward.

One day after the National Hockey League suspended its season, Montreal Canadiens forward Dale Weise found himself wrestling with the same question many people around the globe are struggling to answer in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic: “What should I do now?”

Out in Philadelphia, where Nate Thompson has been since he was traded from the Canadiens to the Flyers on Feb. 24, the vibe was much the same. On Friday, he and his wife, Sydney, settled into their pre-furnished apartment for what they expect will be the long haul—and a first weekend sans hockey of “not doing much.”

“It’s almost kind of embarrassing to talk about what I’ve been doing, because I really don’t have much to say,” Thompson said in a telephone interview with Sportsnet on Sunday. “We got the dogs here. Luckily in our building there’s a floor that has a dog run, so we don’t have to venture out too far and we can just stay near our building. A lot of trips down there with the dogs and back up to the apartment. Food, TV… Our Apple TV only works in the living room, so we set up an air mattress in the living room because the couch isn’t the best here. We’re just getting very creative because we know we might have to do this for a little while.”

This is foreign territory for professional athletes who lead such structured lives. Even when the off-season hits and they’re free from work, morning workouts are scheduled, afternoon skates are held, and leisure time is somewhat limited.

Granted the NHL has paused for now, not canceled its season, and optimism things will eventually resume has these players tethered to staying in shape.

But neither is of the opinion that team-owned training facilities will potentially re-open soon or that informal, small-group skating sessions will be held as NHLPA head Donald Fehr suggested late last week.

“I think that’s really, really, really optimistic,” said Weise, who chatted with Sportsnet on Sunday afternoon as he made his way home to the south shore of Montreal after filming a promotional shoot for the business he and his wife are partners in called WowMoms World. “In a week, I really don’t think we’ll have an understanding of where we’re at with it yet. We’re still trying to set parameters and we’re just starting to shut down restaurants and bars and I think that’s just the start of things until we can really figure out what we’re working with. I think if guys are containing themselves, well maybe in a couple of weeks we can come in and start working out, but I think one or two weeks is really optimistic.”

These comments were made before the CDC recommended the cancelation or postponement of all events with 50 people or more for the next eight weeks—making it all but impossible for the NHL to resume its season before May.

And, in any case, neither Weise nor Thompson are altogether concerned about hockey at the moment.

“Hockey’s on the back burner right now,” Thompson said. “I’m thinking about my sister. My sister’s a nurse who lives in Louisiana. She’s got two boys and she’s gotta be at the hospital, so that’s real—excuse my language—that’s real (expletive). I think that’s what I’m feeling. I’m just hoping everyone’s okay, and at the same time we want to take things serious and do the right things.”

And right now, Thompson is also dealing with the reality that he can’t see his four-year-old son, Teague, in person until further notice.

“I want him to be in Minnesota and he needs to be there,” he said. “He’s with his mom and he’s in good hands and I’m trying to talk to him every day to just make sure we keep that line of communication open. But I think the biggest thing is for him to stay put and I’ll see him when I see him, when this thing hopefully blows over.”

Until then, Thompson will try to get some home workouts in and find other ways to pass the time.

For Weise, having four kids at home—all of them under seven years old—will keep him plenty busy.

Still, the question of what he’s going to do with himself came to mind immediately on Friday and lasted through the weekend.

“Now it’s the end of the season and it’s like, ‘Are we going to finish the season? Are we done?’ It’s a weird situation to be in where you need to keep yourself in shape but you’re not allowed to go anywhere,” he said. “I’m just doing home workouts, which isn’t really effective. But are you going to kill yourself in the gym over the next two to three weeks to make sure you’re ready for…nothing? It’s a really, really weird time for us. None of us have ever been through this before. To be at the end of the season with like 11 games left and our probability of making the playoffs being not real high—it’s been a really weird time.”

So Weise got up late on Friday, had breakfast with his kids, turned to YouTube for a stretching video, did a light workout, went for a 90-minute walk, spent some time working on spelling and cursive with his six-year-old son, Ryder, and eventually turned to Twitter for a Q&A session with fans.

Thompson called up former Canadiens teammate Victor Mete over the weekend for advice on what games to buy with the PlayStation 4 he was planning on ordering online.

Again, hockey wasn’t in focus, but that didn’t mean it was completely forgotten. Especially for Thompson, who left a down-turning Canadiens squad for a Flyers team that was surging up the standings and in the midst of establishing a season-high nine-game winning streak.

“The team was already playing well before I was traded here, but the way we went about every game was on to the next game,” said Thompson. “You could see how this team was really kind of bought in. Not only that, but I think everyone really believes we have a really good team and that we can beat anybody. I think when you have that kind of recipe, it’s a pretty dangerous team.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say I want to keep playing hockey. I think every guy in the league wants to be playing. But I think the most important thing is you want everyone to be okay, and you want this virus to calm down and you don’t want to put anyone in jeopardy just because of a game.”

So he and Sydney are kicking back for the time being, checking in on Teague, and placing daily phone calls to their more-at-risk parents to make sure they’re taking extra precautions.

Much like the Weises are doing.

“Lauren’s Dad and stepmother were traveling around Europe and the States the last two months, so they’re kind of self-quarantined and seeing how they feel,” Weise said. “We’re trying to check in on them every four-to-five hours to make sure they don’t have a sore throat or anything.

“My dad is worse than me for going stir crazy. I told him he can go to my house (in Winnipeg) and shovel my driveway, but to try to stay away from people as best as he can.”

Hockey is somewhat out of sight and out of mind.

“Full disclosure, we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Weise said. “I don’t think anybody does. You look at Quebec where they closed restaurants, bars and gyms, which I think is a proactive step, how long is this really going to go on? I feel like we’re just getting started here. In two, three weeks is this really going to be better? I don’t think so.

“So how long are you really going to push the season back? I don’t know if the players are going to have any say, but if you start looking to play games in May and the playoffs go June and July, are people going to agree to that? I don’t know.”

Uncertainty rules in these times.


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