As the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols tighten this week, with the Toronto and Edmonton hubs set to open Sunday, Auston Matthews is looking forward to the one that loosens: the dress code.
The league has always required players to wear a jacket and tie before games, and the TV networks have taken to showing what they wear as they head into their locker rooms. But NHL attire has certainly been more staid than that of their NBA and NFL brethren.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” said Matthews, the Maple Leafs centre whose suits have always tended to push fashion limits. “I think it will be an equal opportunity for guys to express themselves, like other leagues are able to. I think it will be pretty cool.
“Sometimes hockey can fall behind as far as that stuff goes. Who knows, maybe it works out really well and they change it to full time, no dress code.”
Not every Leaf will take huge advantage of the change, however.
“I’m not as crazy as a couple other guys on our team with their outfits,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “For now, I like wearing suits.”
Aside from the actual games, fashion statements are probably the only thing some players are looking forward to. Bubble life promises to be uncomfortable, with more restrictions starting this week:
- Players must pass three nasal swab tests in a row, each spaced 48 hours apart, before travelling to the hubs on Sunday.
- The NHL is urging, but not requiring, players to stay home and avoid “unnecessary interactions” with non-family members before the hubs open.
- Two players tested positive in the first five days of formal training camps from July 13 to 17, the league said Monday, after 2,618 tests on more than 800 NHLers. The league is not releasing the names of those who tested positive.
- Team and league charter flights will be restricted to “asymptomatic persons with negative tests and persons with no suspected exposure to or symptoms associated with COVID-19.”
- Those who meet the requirements for charter flights will be free to roam the hub’s league-approved hotels upon arrival: in Toronto, the Fairmont Royal York and Hotel X. Those who arrive on a commercial airline, however, must first self-isolate in their hotel room for four days and pass four nasal swab tests.
The Leafs appear to be taking all this very seriously.
“The message in the room going around is making sure we’re not putting ourselves in situations where we could harm or affect our teammates,” said Matthews. “Guys have got families and stuff like that. The message across the room is: Get used to it. Get used to staying in your place, not going out for dinner, not going out for lunch, not walking around. Just getting used to being inside and staying away from people.”
The players are making sacrifices for each other, especially those married with children.
“We’re all sticking together, and making sure we’re communicating with each other, and trying to be there for each other as teammates,” said Kyle Clifford, the father of three boys.
“From the family side, you’re soaking up the little bit of family time you have left. We’ve prepared (the kids) for it the last couple of months. Fortunately, we’ve gotten a lot of family time in the last couple of months; that’s made it a little bit easier. It will be hard just talking over FaceTime all the time, but my wife (Paige) does a good job keeping them busy.”
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Clifford’s wife is from Edmonton, which will host the conference finals and the Stanley Cup final. They hope to reunite there, with families allowed to rejoin players starting with the final four: “The goal is to be going out there and seeing them for the conference finals.”
The Leafs will also be spending at least some time considering what to wear, and how much to pack.
“I’ve got stuff packed already,” Rielly said about preparing for the short trip to the Toronto hub. “The suits are in the bag. I think I’ll pack a couple of extra just in case. We’re preparing for a long run. You don’t want to be left hanging down the stretch.”