More than 621,000 Canadians play in organized hockey leagues, but community hockey has been suspended in most provinces with high COVID-19 infection rates after a series of arena-related outbreaks. Air quality research and a growing understanding of how the virus spreads are helping to explain why facing-off indoors can be risky during the pandemic. In recent months, there have been COVID outbreaks traced to hockey arenas all over the U.S. and Canada. In Saskatchewan there were 20 separate outbreaks tied to arenas. One old-timers hockey team from the interior of British Columbia travelled to Alberta and brought the infection back with them to their families and co-workers. In Ottawa, a single hockey practice in December led to 89 infections as the players unknowingly brought the disease home to their families. Hugh Campbell has been a minor hockey league director in Barrie, Ont., for more than 40 years. In November, he had to deal with a COVID outbreak in a team of 15- and 16-year-olds after one player became ill the day after a practice. “We immediately isolated the whole team for a 14-day period,” he said. “During that 14-day period, eight of the boys actually ended up testing positive. It was a good thing that we got on it right away and managed to curtail it just to the one team and one group.” Last October, just two weeks after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, the Atlanta Centers for Disease Control issued a little-noticed Morbidity and Mortality Report about the dangers of contracting COVID-19 from playing hockey. The report was based on an amateur hockey game in Tampa Bay last June in which one infected player passed the disease on to 13 of the 22 other players who were on the ice with him, as well as to one rink attendant. All this comes as little surprise to experts who have been studying air quality in hockey arenas for many years. Most of those studies had to do with the exhaust from the Zamboni machines that clean and re-surface the ice before games or between periods. Older versions of those machines have internal combustion engines that pollute the air. Cold air does not rise, and the studies showed that polluted air tends to stay close to the ice level, even when there is building ventilation. That same phenomenon applies to air contaminated with the COVID-19 virus, according to Jeffrey Siegel, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto. “We have a potentially infected player on the ice, and the pollutants get trapped near the ice surface,” he said. “Even more respiratory aerosols are being produced because people are working hard, because they’re doing this physical activity. Combine that with these higher concentrations near the ice surfaces, people breathing deeply because they’re working hard too, and you can end up potentially with some quite high exposures.” Professor Qingyan Chen of Indiana’s Purdue University has studied the air in hockey arenas in Boston and Halifax. “Suppose you were sick, the particles exhaled by you will be just behind you in the wake of your moving body. We also conducted another study showing this moving wake could carry the particles to different places, and even another player chasing you on the surface could stay in the high concentration zone of the breathed air,” Chen said. The risk of infection can be even higher in dressing rooms, and on the bench between shifts when players are often coughing or spitting. Wearing full-length plexiglass face visors that resemble the shields worn by medical personnel doesn’t solve the problem, according to professor Siegel. “Plastic visors work great for very large respiratory droplets, but for anything that’s small, the air just goes around the visor. And so do they help? Yes. Are they a perfect solution? Absolutely not.” Many wonder why the National Hockey League was able to complete its last season and playoffs with relatively few COVID-19 cases. The answer lies at least in part in the strict precautions taken by players and staff off the ice. Infectious disease expert Dr. Issac Bogoch helped to design elaborate testing and strict bubble protocols for the NHL. Players were tested for days before being admitted to the NHL bubble, were quarantined in their rooms upon arrival, and tested daily thereafter. “What you saw at the end of the day were, I think, very tight protocols that took a lot of buy-in and were adhered to by everyone — not just the players, but all the other personnel in the bubble,” Dr. Bogoch said. “But of course that takes a lot of resources and a huge commitment. Many of the minor hockey leagues just don’t have the resources to do that.” One of the few community games still being played in Canada last week was in St. John’s, N.L., on Jan. 10. The players had to wear masks in public areas before and after the game. There was no spitting allowed, and plenty of bottles of hand sanitizer were around. Playing in the Newfoundland game was former figure skater Dwan Street, who converted to hockey five years ago. “Hockey’s pretty big here. And just being a part of that and the whole hockey culture, you know, it’s a huge part of who I am,” she said. “It’s a social thing as well. Most of my best friends are on the hockey team, and you definitely miss that. I think when it comes down to precautions, we’re definitely willing to do what we have to do. Whether that’s going back to showing up [for games] fully dressed, where the only thing you had left to put on was your skates, whatever it takes.” Air-quality expert Siegel understands that many Canadians are devoted to community hockey. “I really get it,” he said. “Physical activity is important, it’s important for physical health, it’s important for mental health. Playing hockey is really important to a lot of people. But there’s kind of a balance here, because it is also a higher risk for infection.” So how do you balance those two things? “I think it’s going to come down to the individual choices,” Siegel said. “If someone lives in a household with a vulnerable family member, maybe someone who’s older or someone who’s got a respiratory condition that makes them more sensitive to COVID, that might be a good time to say, ‘maybe I shouldn’t play hockey this season.'” Dr. Bogoch thinks one solution would be to move as many community games as possible to outdoor rinks. “I think you can get out on the outdoor ice and have a safe experience, as long as it’s done well,” he said. “So rather than saying no, no, no, I think we should say, well, is there a way that we can get around this and do this safely? And if careful and if done right, I think you probably can do it on the outdoor ice in a much safer environment.”
Mitch Marner magic helps Toronto Maple Leafs navigate injury issues – TSN
TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who held an optional skate in Edmonton on Monday ahead of their evening game against the Oilers.
Sheldon Keefe smiled when asked about potentially making changes to a winning lineup.
“Well, I think we’d always make room for Auston [Matthews],” the Leafs coach said.
Whether Keefe will be able to write No. 34 onto his lineup card tonight in Edmonton remains unclear. The National Hockey League’s leading goal scorer missed Saturday’s game with a wrist injury.
Matthews stayed out late at Monday’s optional workout and skated hard, which is something only the projected scratches usually do. Toronto’s No. 1 centre still doesn’t appear to be shooting the puck particularly hard. Keefe referred to Matthews as a game-time decision.
The Leafs played extremely well without Matthews during a 4-0 win on Saturday.
“A really special player who’s having an incredible year, so any time you have a guy like that out … the whole team has to step up,” said winger Zach Hyman. “We did that.”
The absence of Matthews may open up more shooting opportunities for crafty winger Mitch Marner, who scored his 10th goal of the season on Saturday.
“When you’re playing with a guy like Auston you’re always trying to find him in spots and not really thinking of shooting,” Marner said after the game. “This year, now, my mindset is still to try and find Auston if I think I can get it to him but, if not, then it’s trying to get it on net and realizing that sometimes a play off a goalie is better than a pass. I’m trying to do that more. I worked on my shot a lot this year and I just feel confident when I’m shooting nowadays.”
The new-look line of Marner, John Tavares and Joe Thornton found instant chemistry. It was the first time Tavares and Thornton lined up together in a game this season. The trio all touched the puck on Marner’s goal.
“Joe puts himself in a good spot and stretches the ice and [Morgan] Rielly finds him and he finds John in the space that Joe’s created underneath,” Keefe said. “John attacks the middle of the ice and kicks it back to Mitch and drives through the middle of the ice making it harder on the defence and the goalie and it leads to a goal so there’s a lot of things that go into that.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 28, 2021
Marner also picked up an assist on the William Nylander power-play goal.
More impressive than the offence was the responsible two-way play. Toronto’s top line outscored the Connor McDavid line 1-0 and kept the Oilers captain quiet most of the night.
“We didn’t really over-complicate things,” Marner said. “We were playing smart with the puck. When we were getting it down low we were talking to each other, finding exits out of corners and off the wall. We got to make sure we keep doing that. The communication throughout our D-zone and getting the puck in our hands to go up the ice with speed was very, very good.”
The whole Leafs team was very good and very disciplined. Toronto didn’t take a single penalty.
“They played such a good game,” said McDavid, who managed just one shot on net. “They were so solid everywhere. They were never in a desperate situation where they needed to hook or hold a guy. Part of that is us not going hard enough to the net or making enough plays. Another part is them just playing so well and being in the right position all of the time.”
Frederik Andersen and Jack Campbell are also listed as game-time decisions. Andersen, like Matthews, stayed out late at the morning skate. Keefe indicated yesterday it was unlikely Toronto’s No. 1 goalie would be ready to return from a lower-body injury on Monday.
For the second straight day, Campbell wasn’t on the ice. He returned from a leg injury on Saturday and stopped all 30 shots faced, but also looked to be in discomfort after being run into by Tyler Ennis in the first period.
Michael Hutchinson was in the starter’s net at Monday’s skate and also the first goalie off the ice. He’s 2-1-0 with a .924 save percentage this season. Hutchinson was in net last season when McDavid scored a highlight-reel against the Leafs in Toronto.
The Leafs signed T.J. Brodie in the off-season with these type of matchups in mind. The veteran blueliner stared down McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on Saturday and didn’t blink during 22 minutes and 15 seconds of work.
“He doesn’t care who he’s playing against,” said Keefe. “It doesn’t rattle him. It doesn’t concern him. He’s comfortable in his own game and realizes he’s got to stay within his skill set and do what works for him. Even if he gets beat or makes a mistake, he’s just going to go back and drink some water and go out and give his best shot the next time out and more often than not it works out for him. That’s why he is who he is in the league.”
Brodie picked up an assist and finished Saturday’s game with a plus-2 rating. The former Flame sees a lot of similarities between current partner Rielly and former running mate Mark Giordano.
“They’re both great defensively and look to jump offensively,” the 30-year-old observed. “They’re the type of guys who know how to get open and be available for you to get that outlet pass and, at the same time, they make great, quick passes out of the zone so it’s been a pretty easy transition.”
Hyman is playing through some discomfort right now after blocking a couple of shots off his foot.
“You can battle through a little bit of pain,” he said. “I feel like I am able to skate and do all the things that I can do otherwise. It’s more painful not playing, to be honest, when you’re out and you’re watching games.”
Hyman, who missed a couple games with the injury, blocked another shot on Saturday.
“It’s part of the game,” he said. “You don’t have enough time to think, ‘Oh, I should get out of the way on this one.’ When you’re out there playing, you’re not hurt or injured or anything, you’re just playing the game so you don’t think about it. For me, just go out there and do my job and if there’s an opportunity to block a shot then get in the lane.”
Hyman wears plastic coverings on his skates, but the initial shot that hurt him hit him in a vulnerable spot.
“The second time I was lucky I was wearing shot blockers so that definitely helped,” he said.
Jason Spezza snapped a 10-game goal drought in style on Saturday. The 37-year-old completely fooled veteran Oilers goalie Mike Smith.
“That was a sweet move,” said linemate Travis Boyd. “We were joking a little bit about how that’s his trusty, old go-to move from back in the day. He really got Smith to bite on that fake and that was a sweet move.”
“Wow! What a treat it was to watch that,” Campbell gushed after the game. “He does it in practice so it was nice to see it on our end.”
It was career goal No. 346 for Spezza. How is he able to keep goalies guessing on his go-to move?
“He sells the shot really well,” Boyd said. “A lot of people fake a shot, but it’s kind of quick and it doesn’t actually fake anyone out. You can kind of read that it’s a fake. He sold the fake on the slap really hard and then just pushing it that few feet before he shot it gave him that whole side and really locked up Smith.”
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) February 28, 2021
Leafs projected lines for Monday’s game:
Thornton – Tavares – Marner
Barabanov – Kerfoot – Nylander
Mikheyev – Engvall – Hyman
Vesey – Boyd – Spezza
Rielly – Brodie
Muzzin – Holl
Dermott – Bogosian
Watt to sign with Cardinals on reported 2-year, $31M deal – theScore
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year and former Houston Texans defensive lineman will ink a two-year pact worth $31 million, $23 million of which is guaranteed, a source told Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
Watt hit free agency early because the Texans released him from his contract. The 31-year-old asked out of Houston after growing disgruntled with the organization’s culture.
In the desert, Watt will join a squad that features former Texans co-star DeAndre Hopkins, who began recruiting him following his release. Arizona missed the playoffs for a fifth straight season in 2020 and is entering a pivotal third year under head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
The Cardinals now have a pair of high-profile pass-rushers in Watt and Chandler Jones, though the latter could become a casualty of the declining salary cap. General manager Steve Keim said recently that he won’t cut Jones, but that was before he landed Watt.
Watt had only five sacks in 16 games last year, but he was still proficient in generating pressure. His 101 career sacks rank 31st in NFL history. Watt’s greatest concern is the injury bug, which has limited him to eight games or fewer in three of the past five seasons.
The Cardinals were seldom mentioned as a possible landing spot for Watt, who reportedly drew offers from numerous teams. The Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills, and Pittsburgh Steelers were speculated to be his top suitors.
Edmonton Oilers claim goalie Alex Stalock off waivers — a wise, wise, wise move – Edmonton Journal
This in, news that the Edmonton Oilers have claimed goalie Alex Stalock, 33, off of waivers. Bob Stauffer of Oilers Now has tweeted: “Stalock is in year 2 of a 3 year deal with a 785K AAV. He went 20-11-4, 2.67 GAA, .910 SVP last season in Minnesota. He started all 4 games in the Wild’s Play-in Series. He missed the start of this season with an upper body injury.”
1. This is sharp move by the Edmonton Oilers, as there is no goalie in the organization who is ready to step in if either Mikko Koskinen or Mike Smith get injured.
2. To hold on to Stalock, Edmonton will have to keep waiving forwards who are outside the Top 12, but with the Top 12 solidified now that Jujhar Khaira and Gaetan Haas have stepped up as third and fourth line centres, this isn’t such a chore. Players like Kyle Turris, Joakim Nygard, Devin Shore, Patrick Russell and James Neal will have to be waived regularly as they go in and out of the line-up but none of them are likely to be claimed by another team. And if one of them is claimed, it’s not the end of the world. Not having an NHL quality starting goalie, on the other hand, just might be the end of the world when it comes to Edmonton’s playoffs aspirations.
3. If Evan Bouchard is in the line-up, and if all other Oilers d-men are healthy, then two d-men, say Kris Russell and William Lagesson, will eventually take up the 20th and 21st roster spots, with Stalock taking up the 23rd spot. The Oilers can’t waive Russell due to his limited No Movement Clause, and if they put Lagesson on waivers he will most certainly be claimed.
4. Stalock is an improvement over Troy Grosenick, the last goalie brought in under these circumstances. Grosenick had limited NHL experience, while Stalock has plenty. He’ll do in a pinch, and that pinch will hit hard if Smith or Koskinen ever get hurt.
5. In four AHL games, Stuart Skinner has a fine .916 save percentage, while Olivier Rodrigue has an .873 percentage in three games. This is a strong start for Skinner, but he needs more AHL seasoning before he’s ready for the NHL. The acquisition of Stalock means Skinner will get that necessary AHL time. And the loss of Slater Koekkoek to injury means the Oilers have a roster spot for Stalock.
6. The Journal’s Jim Matheson notes: “Since Oilers keep losing goalies they claim suspect Stalock when he gets through quarantine would go on 23 man roster. Plus he qualifies as goalie to leave it available in expansion draft with next year at $785,000.”
7. Sarah McLellan, Wild hockey writer for the StarTribune, reports: “The 33-year-old former Minnesota Duluth has been sidelined all season. He was on the COVID-19 protocols list, but has also been listed out because of an undisclosed upper body injury. Stalock recently had been back working on the ice with goalie coach Frederic Chabot.”
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