What opening day of NHL’s Phase 3 looks like around the league

Caroline Cameron looks back at the last day in March before the NHL lockdown, and looks ahead to the season of second chances, where the race to the 2020-21 Stanley Cup will soon re-start.

Hear that?

That’s the sound of skates on ice and pucks on sticks as NHLers around the league hit the ice for the first day of training camp ahead of a return to competition later this summer.

Monday is a huge day for hockey, as it marks the opening of Phase 3 of the NHL’s return-to-play protocol and the first day of full-team training camps for 24 clubs competing for the Stanley Cup.

The day brings many familiar sights and sounds for hockey fans and those covering the sport, as teams are permitted to ice full rosters (30 skaters, plus an unlimited number of goaltenders). But it also looks different as the league enforces strict regulations around keeping everyone safe and healthy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before being permitted to hit the ice in their home cities, all players were required to undergo testing 48 hours in advance, and will now be tested every other day going forward in addition to daily symptom and temperature checks. This also applies to any other team or arena personnel who will be in the vicinity of players. It’s also important to note that many teams have players still in quarantine, in accordance with federal or regional regulations for those arriving internationally.

For a number of players, this isn’t their first time skating with teammates. The NHL opened Phase 2 back on June 8, which allowed clubs to re-open training facilities (at their own discretion) for voluntary on- and off-ice workouts in small groups. Coaches were not permitted on the ice during those skating sessions, and management was not allowed to come into contact with players. That’s no longer the case in Phase 3, with coaches and management now allowed full interaction with players.

The opening of training camps also means opening the rinks to some members of the media, too, with the league enforcing strict regulations around it. All media members must physically distance from one another and wear a mask at all times.

Reporters will not be permitted to meet with players in-person — press conferences and media availabilities will still take place virtually, via Zoom or conference call, like this:

The NHL has centralized all player health and injury updates, which means coaches and general managers cannot comment on any players’ absences beyond announcing that they are “unfit to play.” So while we’ll likely be hearing that term quite a bit in the next few days, it’s important not to jump to any conclusions here about players’ health, as measures are in place to keep players and their families safe and healthy and personal health records are kept private.

Phase 3 is expected to last two weeks, with teams set to travel to their designated hub cities (Toronto for the East, Edmonton in the West) on July 26 ahead of the opening of Phase 4 (real hockey games!) on Aug. 1.

Here’s a look at what Phase 3 looks like around the league, with some news, notes, and updates sprinkled in:

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

The Toronto Maple Leafs opened Monday’s warmup at Ford Performance Centre with an important statement, sporting Black Lives Matter t-shirts during warmups to help further the important conversations around the anti-racism movement.

“We’re completely committed to to supporting the movement, and this is just our small way of trying to keep the conversation going,” Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly said, via Sportsnet’s Luke Fox.

Forward Auston Matthews told reporters on Monday he had tested positive for COVID-19 while at home in Arizona during the NHL’s pause but is now in good health.

The sounds of hockey, at their finest:

General consensus around rinks is that teams aren’t easing into anything here on Day 1. It’s full-speed ahead:

Quarantine beards are now playoff beards:

The Pittsburgh Penguins opened their camp with fewer players in attendance, as the team announced Monday morning that they are “voluntarily sidelining” nine players from camp for the time being after learning of possible secondary exposure to COVID-19.

Also important: Gritty’s back… but keeping his distance.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

The Edmonton Oilers paid tribute to the late Colby Cave on Day 1 of training camp. Cave died in April after suffering a brain bleed. He was 25. The Oilers skate in his memory, and play on in his honour.

The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Winnipeg Jets also posted updates from their camps getting underway Monday morning:

Per Sportsnet contributor Ken Wiebe, Bryan Little won’t be part of the group at training camp as he continues to recover from a perforated ear drum suffered in November.

The Chicago Blackhawks tweeted out photos of players wearing masks while heading into the rink.

The reigning Stanley Cup champs are back to defend their title:

… and their first opponent, the Colorado Avalanche, look ready to challenge.

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