VANCOUVER – Twenty-three hours into the Vancouver Canucks’ COVID scare, the only player missing from Wednesday’s morning skate due to the coronavirus was the one pulled from Tuesday’s practice after a positive test.
A follow-up test confirmed that forward Adam Gaudette, who was asymptomatic, has COVID-19. But the contact-tracing protocols established by the National Hockey League and British Columbia government cleared the rest of the Canucks, who will face the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
“It has been limited to one person,” Canucks coach Travis Green told reporters by video conference. “We've been following NHL protocol, and we're getting ready to play a game tonight.
“When you get the news (about a positive test), you're always wondering about it. Last night we had a pretty good idea that we were good to go this morning. We've had six days off prepping for a game here, so we've tried to just stay focused on that task, and let the people in charge that advise us on the protocols let us know if there's anything else changing.”
Since the Canucks knew before Wednesday’s morning skate that Tuesday’s test results came back negative for all other players, and there were no “high-risk close contacts” identified by league and medical officials, it’s highly unlikely that Wednesday night’s game will be postponed.
Canucks defenceman Jordie Benn tested positive in January on the eve of the regular season. In that case, winger J.T. Miller was ordered into quarantine as a high-risk close contact despite never testing positive for COVID-19. The players had been living in the same house.
Miller missed three games due to his one-week quarantine, and Benn did not play his first game until 10 days into the regular season.
“Everybody's trying to do the right things to not have this situation happen,” Miller said Wednesday. “(Gaudette’s) situation is different than mine; I didn't have it. Having to sit out and be away from your team, especially at the hard time of the year, it's not ideal. But everybody is just trying to do their best to make sure they're following protocol and make sure we don't spread it.
“Unfortunately, things like this are probably going to happen over the course of the season with a lot of players. Hopefully, we can try to minimize the damage here and hopefully Gauds isn't feeling too poorly.”
Travis Boyd, claimed on waivers last week from the Toronto Maple Leafs, has finished his NHL travel quarantine and skated Wednesday morning on the Canucks’ third line, beside Brandon Sutter and Tyler Motte. Boyd replaces Gaudette in the bottom six.
Jake Virtanen, who missed Tuesday’s practice due to an undisclosed illness, skated on the second line with Miller and Jimmy Vesey. After his dog-walking date Monday with Gaudette generated a lot of conjecture in the wake of the subsequent positive test, winger Brock Boeser remains cleared to play and skated with Bo Horvat and Nils Hoglander.
Boeser and Gaudette travelled to their dog outing in separate vehicles and wore masks. Officials, obviously, did not feel Boeser qualified as a high-risk close contact.
“I guess we'll have to wait and see if it has helped or not,” Green said of the Canucks’ six-day break between games. “But I do sense that our group is rested (and) got some energy back in them, physically and also mentally. We've tried to stay off them as far as video, and really kind of let them reset a little bit. Anytime you have a six-day break, you do worry a little bit as a coach about rustiness. But I'll take the break anytime, especially with the way the season has gone. We should have a lot of energy in our game.”
The Canucks and Flames, the Canadian division’s biggest disappointments this season, are tied for fifth at 16-18-3. They’re chasing the Montreal Canadiens for the final playoff spot.
Just out of a week-long shutdown of their own due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the Canadiens are only four points ahead of the Canucks and Flames but have played five fewer games. Still, with 25 games in 43 nights – Montreal will have little rest or quality practice time -- already on their second head coach and having played inconsistently, the Canadiens still look catchable.
“We want to be in a higher-standing position right now, but we're not,” Miller said. “So I don't think there's a whole lot of pressure on us. The teams that are holding on for a spot probably have a little bit more pressure than we do. We have a good team in here, and we're still believing that. I think we can win a lot of these hockey games and make it interesting.”
CANUCKS’ TRAINER HITS 3,000
Tonight’s game will be the 3,000th worked in the NHL by Canucks equipment manager Pat O’Neill. The 60-year-old from Victoria, via Winnipeg, started working as a trainer in 1980 and has been with the Canucks since 1988.
O’Neill grew up repairing and modifying hockey equipment in his dad, Brian’s, sporting goods business. It operated out of their Victoria family home until his mom, Marilyn, “got tired of fibreglass goalie masks getting baked in the oven,” Pat told The Vancouver Sun before his 2,000th game in 2008.
“It's an amazing accomplishment,” Green said. “Just the fact that only five people have done it (reached 3,000 games as an NHL trainer) speaks a lot about Patty. He has worked all-star games, Olympics, World Cups, which tells you how good he is at his job. You've got to be great at what you do, which he is. And you've really got to be an amazing person ... to survive that long and be in that kind of position when you're dealing with athletes that can be a little bit picky. He might be a better person than he is a trainer, which says an awful lot about him.”