As unusual as a summer training camp has been for the Winnipeg Jets, things will get even more weird when the team moves into the bubble in Edmonton next Sunday.
“It’s something we’ve never seen,” Jets leading goal scorer Kyle Connor said this week at the IcePlex. “It’s going to be hard to compare it to anything.”
The Jets and 11 other Western Conference teams will enter the “secure zone” on July 26, in preparation for the NHL’s playoff tournament. The secure zone will include hotels, dining destinations, the arena and practice facilities, and that’s about it. It’s expected all players and staff entering the secure zone will remain there at all times while they are participating in the playoff tournament.
The players will be housed in hotels that are either attached to or very close to the arena and each team will have its own floor. The Jets will be in the Sutton Place Hotel, along with the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks.
There will be very strict protocols regarding their movements from there, all aimed at keeping players and staff safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For the past two weeks we’ve kind of been in our own bubble so, once we go there, it’s going to be even more secure,” Jets defenceman Luca Sbisa said.
“I feel like there’s going to be a lot of waiting and following protocols so it’s going to take a long time for everything but that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
The Jets, who took a day off from training camp on Saturday, will play one exhibition game against the Canucks on July 29 and then open their best-of-five qualifying series against the Flames on Aug. 1 at Rogers Place.
Before that, they’ll take a little time to get used to the new surroundings. Teams that make it to the Stanley Cup final will be in the bubble until early October, so they better learn to like it.
“I just think there’s going to be a lot of traffic in that hotel with all of the players and teams and staff,” Sbisa said.
“It’s going to be hard not to see the other guys. You’re going to share elevators on your way up to your floor, you’re going to see all of the other guys, so it’s definitely going to be different. But it’s going to be the same for everyone — everyone is in the same boat, everyone has to deal with the same thing. It’s an even playing field — we just have to get used to it.”
The bottom line is the players understand that safety is priority No. 1 in these highly unusual times.
“Listen, we’re in a different world right now,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “It’s a different time and precautions are of the essence. From my experience, everyone has taken it extremely seriously and that’s all we can do.”
TIME RUNNING OUT FOR CFL
We are just four days away from the CFL’s self-imposed deadline of July 23 to negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players Association and unveil a plan for shortened 2020 season.
An awful lot has to happen in those four days, with the CFL waiting on a response from the federal government to its request for $42.5 million in funding to pay player salaries and operating costs.
There are certainly many who think the league has no chance of pulling this off, including players, who are unimpressed with the CFL’s offer of non-guaranteed, pro-rated pay for a six-game season. It amounts to players getting paid 33% of their contracted agreement, while playing 33% of the games they normally would play.
To get their money, players would have to travel to a hub city — quite possibly Winnipeg — and live in bubble for two months, all amid a pandemic.
“If I have to risk my life with COVID-19 and stay in a hotel for 105 days, I want my money guaranteed and more than 33%, that’s a joke if you vote to play for this,” Edmonton veteran defensive tackle Almondo Sewell said on Twitter.
He’s certainly not the only player with those sentiments, and the league and PA are believed to be far apart in their negotiations for an agreement to return to play.
Sewell pointed out that a player who makes the league minimum of $64,000 CAD, would receive just $22,000 this year. That amounts to about $16,000, USD, before taxes. How many players are going to want to come up for that?
“High risk of injury, high risk of COVID-19,” Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker Brett Lauther told CTV Regina’s Claire Hanna.
“We don’t have the details of if it’s safe or not or if it’s really a bubble or not. So there’s way too many questions right now to think it’s realistic to even take a risk at something like this for such a low number, financially.”
Surely many players would rather stay home and work other jobs to support their families. Even if the CFL does pull off this miracle, you’re likely going to see quite a few players opt out.
Then again, it seems more likely no one will be playing in 2020 and everyone will spend the next 10 months hoping against hope that the league can come back in 2021.
BALCAEN GETTING BETTER
I exchanged texts with Winnipeg race car driver Amber Balcaen on Friday and she seems to be doing fairly well in her recovery from a violent crash on July 11.
Balcaen is back home in Charlotte, N.C., after spending two days in hospital in Grain Valley, Mo. She’s still very sore and is still suffering from concussion symptoms, but she’s up and moving around at least.
“I can walk now,” she said. “Just don’t have much upper body movement. I hope to be going to the gym by mid-next week to start walking on the treadmill and do lunges and squats and little body weight stuff.”
Balcaen suffered a partially collapsed lung, a concussion and burns to her left arm in the crash at Valley Speedway, where she was driving a midget vehicle on a dirt track in the Powri National Racing Series. Her car, travelling at 140 to 160 km/h, flew off the track and over a retaining fence before flipping several times.
There’s no timeline for when the 28-year-old will get back behind the wheel but all indications are she intends to be on the track as soon as possible.
POSSIBLE CHANGE FOR USPORTS?
In last week’s column, Manitoba Bisons head coach Brian Dobie voiced his displeasure with a decision by the USports board of directors that immediately ended the careers of more than 300 Canadian university football players.
The USports board decided not to waive an age restriction, which prevents most players aged 25 or older from participating, even though they are losing a full season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dobie and many other coaches and players across the country are up in arms and it seems they’ve made an impact. The intense backlash has prompted the USports board of directors to take another look at the issue and it’s possible they’ll change their original ruling.
Dobie said after last week’s article made its way across the country, a petition was started, a formal letter of protest was formulated and national meeting was set up during the week.
“It may turn out to be a significant catalyst in creating a game-changer regarding this issue,” Dobie said.
Hopefully USports makes the right decision. Players are already losing a year of football. At least they should have the chance to return in 2021 and play the final year of their eligibility, even if they have already turned 25.
Especially considering that players who turn 25 after Sept. 1, 2021 will still be allowed to compete anyway.
It’s time to make this right.
Jets getting used to idea of playing in empty arenas
There have been a lot of first for members of the Winnipeg Jets this week.
They’re holding training camp in July, they’re practising at 7:45 a.m., and they’re doing all their media interviews over Zoom, even though reporters are in the same building.
Another first will come soon, when they start playing games in Edmonton with no fans in the building.
That’s surely going to take some getting used to.
“It’s definitely eerie, it’s definitely weird, and in hockey I think it will be even more with the sounds of the boards and the guys’ skates and what not,” Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo said.
“I’m trying to picture a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final, in overtime, with no fans, and how weird that would be. You can’t prep for it. It’s never been done before.”
The Jets will play the Vancouver Canucks in an exhibition game on July 29 and open their best-of-five qualifying series against the Calgary Flames on Aug. 1.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a lot different,” Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “I’ve thought about it quite a bit. Obviously, the game itself doesn’t change, the ice surface doesn’t change, the nets are not any bigger or smaller.
“During the play, it’s going to be different, communicating is probably going to be easier. You’re going to hear every little single stick on the ice or hitting of the boards, passing, stickhandling. You’ll hear everything.”
On that note, the Jets players understand that they’re going to have to watch their mouths on the ice.
“I was watching a little bit of European soccer,” DeMelo said. “Early on they weren’t pumping noise into the stadium and you could hear the guys on the sidelines yelling at each other, all that.
“Maybe they’ll pick up some trash talk from us, we’ll have to see.”
It sounds like the Jets captain will be warning players to not let that happen.
“There’s going to be some moments where you’re gonna have to hold in some of the things you used to be able to say out there,” Blake Wheeler said.
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