Flames trying to ‘think positive, test negative’ during latest COVID shutdown

Calgary Flames coach Darryl Sutter and player on the bench react after the San Jose Sharks took a 5-3 lead during the third period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, in San Jose, Calif. (AP/file)

CALGARY – Finally, a positive that wasn’t produced in a lab.

On a day that began with a 19th Calgary Flames player placed in COVID-19 protocol, leave it to GM Brad Treliving to look on the bright side of a situation that now has his team sidelined through the Christmas break.

“We have a pretty good 3-on-3 team, but they might have been tired when it’s all said and done,” said Treliving, who still has Matthew Tkachuk, Blake Coleman, Michael Stone and goalie Dan Vladar who haven’t tested positive … at least yet.

“I joked with Darryl (Sutter), it was probably the only time players wouldn’t have bitched about ice time.”

Adding even more much-needed levity to his availability by wrapping it up with, “think positive, test negative,” Treliving’s take on the NHL’s decision to postpone games slated for Tuesday and Thursday was predictable.

“I think it’s the right call,” he said, wrapping up a week in which 32 of his players, coaches and support staffers tested positive since Saturday.

“There comes a point when you don’t have any guys left.

“It was the only call that could be made.”

With the list of players in COVID-19 protocol surging past 20 per cent of the league this season, the Florida Panthers and Colorado Avalanche were also shut down through Dec. 26 on Friday, prompting Treliving and head physician/medical director Ian Auld to field questions.

There are few answers.

No, there is no timeline yet for a return to the ice for anyone in the Flames organization, although it is reasonable to expect the home game against Edmonton on Dec. 27 could proceed.

That’s assuming the omicron surge allows the NHL to return by then.

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By then the bulk of the players should be out of isolation, as the update from Auld reiterated that most players are asymptomatic so far.

“Overwhelmingly, our cases so far have been either asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic,” said Auld.

“We do have a few people, somewhere between four and six, and a lot of cases are in evolution so it may change, that have had moderate symptoms. Chills, fevers, fatigue, but turning the corner quickly, in 36 to 48 hours.

“It’s very reassuring for, hopefully the world, but certainly us as a group.”

Auld said sequencing has confirmed only three cases as the omicron variant, but he expects more.

“My anticipation, if there were three there will be more, if not all,” said the team’s longtime doctor, who said those tests should be completed in the next 48-72 hours.

“I’ve been helping manage this problem for 18 months or so in a hockey-related environment and we’ve had cases before, and close contact before. I’ve never seen transmission on this level, which is completely in keeping with what we’re seeing across the world. It doesn’t require a huge window to move from person to person.”

It should surprise no one that Treliving alluded to some of the players’ family members have also tested positive, but wouldn’t get into detail as teams are only to comment on their players in protocol.

“Out of privacy to them I’m not going to get into it, it’s safe to say we’ve dealt with some family members,” said Treliving, reiterating that the health of everyone involved trumps his long list of to-dos.

“At present, everybody is doing OK.”

The team’s facilities remain closed to even those who haven’t tested positive, although lineups outside the Saddledome form every morning with players and staffers pulling up in their vehicles for daily swabs.

Treliving said the team has not heard from the province regarding the possibility of reducing crowds for future games, but you can bet that will be broached, as it has in Ontario and Quebec already.

There have been no discussions on amending salary cap parameters to help the Flames eventually ice a team.

“They will be coming back out at different times, and hopefully by the time we’re back up and going, we’ll have a large majority of players back,” said Treliving, whose club added Mikael Backlund and a staffer on Friday to the list of those who’ve tested positive.

“We’ve seen it around the league, there are teams playing with short rosters. We just got to the point here where we didn’t have any players left.”

With games increasingly being postponed around the league, there is plenty of concern that more teams will join the Flames on the sidelines soon, as the recent spike in cases on teams that have been playing the Flames makes it hard to dispute (but tough to prove) that on-ice transmission has been happening.

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Peter Loubardias, Brad Treliving and Flames' Medical Director Ian Auld
December 17 2021

“To date, with previous variants, the risk of on field/on-ice transmission has been negligible,” said Auld.

“Omicron is creating a different landscape.

“The answers are not clear at this point, but 100 per cent the league is talking to us and Boston and looking at all the situations to try to decide if on-ice transmission is going to be an issue for us moving forward. We don’t have a clear answer on that.”

They may never get one.

Provincial guidelines will continue to dictate when players can leave isolation, which generally means 10 days from the day of the positive test, assuming they have no symptoms at that point.

That means the first three Flames to test positive can leave isolation as early as Monday, followed by four more Tuesday, three more Wednesday and seven on Thursday, Christmas Eve.

Only then can they theoretically re-emerge from their room to see or hug their sons, daughters, wives, girlfriends, parents and friends for Christmas.

Indeed, “think positive, test negative.”

A Christmas wish for everyone.


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