VANCOUVER – There could be no more human aspect to the Vancouver Canucks’ entanglement with COVID-19, nor a more immediate reminder of priorities, than defenceman Travis Hamonic being added Thursday to the NHL’s COVID protocol list.
He joined winger Adam Gaudette and an unidentified member of the coaching staff on the team’s COVID list as the NHL announced the postponement of another three games for the Canucks, who were supposed to end a six-day schedule break Wednesday at Rogers Arena against the Calgary Flames.
Other Canucks players will continue to self-isolate and Vancouver will not practise again until at least next Tuesday and won’t play any sooner than next Thursday’s road game against the Flames, the NHL said in a press release.
These are minimum target dates. The Canucks could be shut down longer pending further daily testing for COVID-19 and its variants.
Gaudette was pulled from practice on Tuesday when his Monday test for the coronavirus came back positive 24 hours later. After an expedited round of tests on Wednesday, the league postponed the Canucks-Flames game shortly before puck drop that night.
The addition of Hamonic to the COVID protocol list should frighten any parent.
Playing for the Flames last season, the 30-year-old defenceman from St. Malo, Man., opted out of the summer Stanley Cup tournament after his daughter, Charlie, suffered a serious respiratory illness when she was eight months old.
He explained his decision not to play in this achingly-honest statement in July: “Like every parent, everything we do is to provide and protect our kids and try to take away any suffering they may endure. Last year, we spent the longest, scariest and hardest week of our lives by our daughter's hospital bedside. We were unsure of what would come next. But with God's strength, our little girl fought her respiratory virus and recovered during that long week. We were helpless and couldn't do anything to help her except hold her little hands, kiss her head and pray. We saw what a respiratory virus can do to our healthy little girl. And it's something no parent wants or should go through. Now, blessed with our second child, a baby boy, the risk of today's COVID-19 pandemic is a very difficult one to weigh as parents.”
His daughter’s illness in January 2019 came a few months after Hamonic and his wife, Stephanie, partnered the Flames in a charity initiative called Charlie’s Children to provide items like cribs, strollers and car seats to low-income families expecting a baby.
Fearful of bringing COVID-19 into his family, Hamonic chose not to play for the Flames last summer.
He ended his statement with this: “I wish I could lace up my skates and be out there battling, blocking a shot, and helping the team win. But my family has and always will come first. Being my little kids' dad every day is the most important job I have.”
Hamonic was just 10 years old when he lost his own father.
An unsigned free agent throughout the off-season, Hamonic joined the Canucks in January on a professional tryout and agreed to a one-year contract. And now he has tested positive for COVID-19.
The ordeal he is enduring – and the risk to his family – should provide pause and context to fans who are disappointed or, worse, angry that hockey games are being postponed.
Shortly before news broke Thursday about Hamonic and the Canucks’ schedule, Micaela Gaudette, Adam’s wife, decried on Twitter the abuse her husband has been taking on social media.
“A human being gets sick with a virus we don’t know much about and y’all are angry at him because you can’t watch a hockey game,” she tweeted.
She revealed her husband “isn’t in great shape” but she’s taking care of him.
Naturally, there are questions about the timing of tests and how close the Canucks came to playing a game Wednesday with Hamonic in the lineup.
The Montreal Canadiens, who emerged Tuesday from their own week-long COVID-19 shutdown that included confirmation from general manager Marc Bergevin that winger Joel Armia had contracted one of the highly-transmissible variants, have had same-day test returns all season.
The Canucks and other teams, including the Edmonton Oilers, have contracts with labs to provide test results within 24 hours.
On Wednesday, however, the Canucks worked with LifeLabs to get their tests expedited and the results returned before their game, which resulted in the postponement.
An NHL spokesman told Sportsnet that lab capacities and volume vary by city, but the Canucks have operated entirely with testing protocols and timeframes approved by the league.
When Vancouver players arrived Thursday morning for their daily COVID-19 tests, a drive-through test site had been set up in the underground parkade so that players would not physically enter the arena. Ordinarily, daily testing occurs in a restricted area on the Level-100 concourse.
The Canucks planned to continue expedited testing through Friday.
It is not known which coach is in COVID-19 protocol, but several members of the staff were self-isolating at a nearby hotel in order to avoid contact with their families.
All NHL teams have a contact-tracing officer who works to identify anyone within the organization requiring quarantine due to contact with someone who is COVID-positive. Vancouver Coastal Health, the government authority with jurisdiction over the Canucks, conducts its own contact-tracing investigation on all known cases.
It’s possible news for the Canucks could get worse.
As it stands, the team that had the worst NHL schedule in Canada at the start of this shortened season will now also have one of the worst ones to end it when its final 19 games are further compressed due to this week’s outbreak.
But these are only hockey games. Remember that.