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Canucks forge ahead in restart preparations despite lingering COVID-19 concerns

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom has an idea what life is going to be like living inside the bubble once the NHL begins play again.

“It’s going to suck, but it’s worth it,” he said.

The NHL will stage its Stanley Cup tournament with 24 teams split between hub cities in Edmonton and Toronto. The league has established strict health protocols and guidelines, but players and management understand there are no guarantees when it comes to dealing with COVID-19.

“There is no question the virus isn’t going to go away soon,” Vancouver forward Brandon Sutter said. “There is always going to be a risk of people getting it.”

WATCH | How safe are hub city bubbles?

As NHL hub cities Edmonton and Toronto prepare to host hundreds of players practising for the resumption of the season, there are concerns that “bubble” preparations don’t go far enough to prevent COVID-19. 2:05

The NBA and Major League Soccer plan to hold tournaments in a single bubble city, but both leagues have experienced issues with players testing positive. MLS has been forced to reschedule games and two teams have withdrawn from the tournament.

“I think from day one nobody could really predict the future of these things and how they are going to work out,” Sutter said. “For us, it’s just worry about one day at a time.

“Things keep changing every day with this [virus] and there are always things that are unpredictable. Right now, we are just preparing to go play and not worry about the worst-case scenario.”

Canucks general manager Jim Benning said everyone involved will have to be diligent in following the guidelines.

“I’m hoping we don’t have problems once we get into the bubble, that we will be able to play the games and finish this year off,” he said.

WATCH | NHL officially announces hub city choices:

The NHL and its players’ union formally signed an agreement Friday that would see hockey return to action in 2 Canadian cities on August 1. 3:37

Teams will travel to the hub cities July 26 and the first round of the tournament begins with best-of-five play-in series Aug. 1. The Stanley Cup will be awarded in October.

Vancouver was one of 24 NHL teams that opened their training camp on Monday. Concerns about COVID-19 forced the league to pause its season March 12 with 189 games remaining.

The Canucks play the Minnesota Wild in one of the opening round series beginning Aug. 2.

Team supportive of opt-out(s)

Several NBA, MLS and Major League Baseball players have decided not to play this season.

In the NHL, 35 players have tested positive for COVID-19 since June 8. At least half a dozen players, including Vancouver’s Sven Baertschi, have decided not to play in the tournament.

Markstrom understands why those players made their decision.

“In most cases there is a good reason of family health or your own health,” he said. “It’s not worth jeopardizing your family or your own health to come and play.”

Benning said the Canucks support Baertschi’s decision.

“Each player has their own concerns and worries and makes decisions based on their particular circumstance,” he said.

Canucks captain Bo Horvat returned to Vancouver just one week after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child.

“You look at things a lot differently, having a kid,” Horvat said. “You want the best health and safety for your family. The way they have the bubble set up it is going to be the safest place for all of us.

“Everybody is going to be tested. That makes me feel a lot better. When it is time to leave, I’ll be going back home safe and hopefully COVID free.”

Benning said the return of sports is important for many people.

“Sports gives people a diversion,” he said. “It’s been a tough four months. I think it’ll be an opportunity for people to get their minds off everyday life.”

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