When NHL players departed the homes they’d spent the last four-and-a-half months confined to by the COVID-19 pandemic, and ventured to the NHL’s hub sites in Toronto and Edmonton, the options for how to pass the time were restricted.
For five days, teams had to stay amongst themselves, dining together exclusively and being largely sequestered in their team rooms. But now that they’re immersed in bubble life and everyone’s been tested daily, they’ve been afforded more freedom — and they’ve taken full advantage of it.
“Now you might have a group of Blackhawks dining beside a group of Minnesota Wild. It’s taken on that peewee-tournament type of vibe,” Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston said during the first Hockey Night In Canada Headlines segment of the restarted season. “It’s taken on that peewee-tournament type of vibe. And I will say that, overwhelmingly, that’s been very positively received by the players.”
Given the remarkable circumstances under which players would be returning to play, the league made significant efforts to provide a wide variety of comforts.
There are restaurants in the secure zones — some of which were in place and others which the league set up with the help of local chefs — and a concierge system to allow deliveries of food, pharmaceutical needs and other items from outside the bubbles.
Each hub city also includes designated spaces for indoor and outdoor activities such as movie theaters, player lounges, patio decks and recreational spaces for other sports like soccer, basketball and tennis.
“I don’t think anyone truly knew what to expect, this is brand new territory for everyone,” Johnston said. “But the feeling, at least in the early days here, is the NHL outdid itself with what’s gone on in the bubble.”