Fans won’t be the only thing missing from arenas when the NHL begins its Stanley Cup tournament next month in Edmonton and Toronto.
To adhere to the league’s COVID-19 protocols, only select media will be allowed into buildings to watch games and there will be no direct access to coaches or players.
Reporters will not be allowed into dressing rooms. That means no face-to-face interviews with players after games and no locker-room scrums following practices. All coach and player availability will be virtual and coordinated by the NHL.
Speaking on a video conference call, Markstrom said he already has seen the difference during training camp as his Canucks prepare for their play-in series against the Minnesota Wild.
“It’s for sure a lot different than it could have been, especially in a Canadian market,” said Markstrom, who is usually cordial but often blunt in talking with reporters. “In previous years, when you’ve been in the playoffs, the locker room is pretty much full of media. We’re not going to have that right now.
“That’s going to be good for our team. Nothing against you guys [but] it makes it a little bit easier for a lot of young players who have never been in playoff games that play for us.”
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At least nine Canucks, including Markstrom, Calder Trophy finalist Quinn Hughes, last year’s top rookie Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser have not played a post-season game.
Markstrom was a rookie with the Florida Panthers when they lost in the opening round of the playoffs to the New Jersey Devils, but he didn’t see any action.
Boeser said not dealing with a wave of tape recorders and television cameras flooding into the dressing room after a game will be part of the new normal for the return of hockey.
“Not seeing you guys after games will be a little different,” he said. “I think we’ll probably get out of the rink a little faster.
“We just have to focus on our game. I think that sometimes there are distractions out in the world. This bubble will help throw those aside and help us focus better.”
Boeser dealt with one of those distractions just as training camp opened when a report surfaced in the local media that the Canucks were considering trading him.
Vancouver general manager Jim Benning adamantly denied the suggestion, saying “someone made that up,” but Boeser was left frustrated.
“I felt I have always been pretty honest with the media,” he said. “I think it was pretty unnecessary.”
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Pettersson sometimes looks uncomfortable in large scrums, but the 21-year-old Swede has adapted to being in the spotlight. In small groups, or one-on-one, he can be chatty and has a quirky sense of humour.
“It’s different for you guys,” Pettersson said. “It’s new for everyone. It is what it is, we just have to do the best.”
Depending on the day, head coach Travis Green can be curt, secretive, funny, defensive, informative or dismissive when answering questions. He chuckled when if he was happy reporters wouldn’t be interrogating his players.
“Happy or unhappy isn’t the word,” he said. “I talked to our group about being adaptable and staying focused. This is just part of the new norm. I’m not overthinking it.”
While players may appreciate the new privacy of their dressing room, they are still coming to grips with the idea of playing before empty seats.
“Fans make the game so much more exciting, they bring so much energy,” said Pettersson.
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Markstrom said an empty building is another mental hurdle for players.
“When it’s a hockey game you have 20,000 [people], it’s loud and it helps you get going,” he said. “It helps your body realize it’s a game. We’re not going to get that help when we start to play.”
Not having fan noise can make it easier to hear what players are saying on the ice. Canucks captain Bo Horvat was recently heard sharply criticizing Jake Virtanen after throwing a late hit during a scrimmage.
“I think you should always watch what you say, even if there are fans,” said Boeser.