New York: Sunday, August 09, 2020
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Game On: NHL restart a small step toward return to normalcy

TORONTO (AP) – NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took a brief break from watching the ultimate few exhibition video games Thursday to ponder the importance of awarding the Stanley Cup some two months from now – ought to all go as deliberate.

The magnitude of the duty it took to merely attain the cusp of resuming play following a four-and-a-half month pause definitely suggests this 12 months’s celebration has the potential of being a shared expertise.

“That’s a very profound question, and I think the answer is extraordinary times present extraordinary challenges. And it takes an extraordinary group of people with an extraordinary effort to get the result you want,” Bettman informed The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

“If you look at the NHL family as a whole, starting with our fans, our players, our people at the league office and our club, the focus, the determination, the desire and the effort – assuming we’re able to get to that goal – will have been the ultimate collaboration,” he added. “I believe whoever ultimately hoists the Stanley Cup will deserve it in ways we couldn’t have imagined, and probably still can’t.”

The first step in direction of closing the NHL’s most unusual season begins Saturday, with the beginning of the expanded 24-team playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta.

A nine-day slate of a doubtlessly 52 video games — relying on the outcomes of the eight best-of-five sequence — will start with the Carolina Hurricanes dealing with the New York Rangers at midday (Eastern) in Toronto. The prime 4 groups in every convention, in the meantime, will play a round-robin sequence to decide seeding for the primary spherical to start Aug. 11.

Rust will definitely play a issue, given how the exhibition video games over the previous three days featured a mixture of sloppy and surreal.

The crispness would possibly take a while to develop after months with no motion, and the ice situations will want to be monitored in the summertime warmth – even in empty arenas – with as many as three video games a day.

With gamers keen to hit opponents after weeks of practices and scrimmages, New York rivals Johnny Boychuk and Brendan Lemieux dropped the gloves for an old-time hockey tussle.

So a lot for self-isolation.

Keep in thoughts, too, what would possibly spill over with groups quarantining in a “bubble” in the identical lodges – although staying on separate flooring.

“The chance for weirdness is probably inevitable,” New York Islanders veteran Cal Clutterbuck mentioned.

“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of head down, walk right by, maybe just give a quick nod if you run into somebody,” he added, earlier than breaking into a snigger. “I’m sure it’ll be civil but strange, although you never know.”

Little appears regular within the age of COVID-19.

Not the principally empty streets of downtown Toronto, the place the hustle and bustle of the business-suited crowd and vacationers is down to a trickle.

The entrances of the Royal York Hotel, the place some groups are staying, had been fully fenced off and coated in black tarp that includes NHL and NHL playoff brand, with a notable safety presence at every entry level.

Though hockey was being performed inside Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, there was no trace of it exterior the constructing.

Maple Leaf Square, normally full of throngs of followers, was as a substitute fenced off, and the benches utilized by a handful of NHL and area workers having fun with a late lunch.

Even the Hockey Hall of Fame was basically empty. It’s averaging about 100 guests a day because it opened two weeks in the past, as opposed to the standard 1,000.

“This is steady by comparison to a month ago,” an worker on the Hall of Fame’s reward retailer cracked, pointing to the 2 prospects inside.

For Maple Leafs and Oilers gamers, there’s no such factor as home-ice benefit. They’ll be getting modified within the guests’ locker room when known as for and positively gained’t be sleeping in their very own beds.

“I think the reality definitely set in yesterday,” Oilers goalie Mike Smith mentioned Monday, a day after groups moved into their respective bubbles. “You bring your luggage into a hotel room after you drive to the rink 10 minutes from your house.”

In Toronto, the town in early August can be buzzing if not for the coronavirus.

The long-standing Caribbean Carnival two-week lengthy road fest was supposed to open this weekend. The Toronto Blue Jays are spending their complete season south of the border. And the Canadian National Exhibition, which pulls lots of of 1000’s of tourists, can be gearing up to open in a few weeks.

Chosen as one the NHL’s two hubs is a level of delight for Toronto Mayor John Tory, even when it means followers can’t attend.

“We consider ourselves over others – like it or not – to be the hockey capital of the world, and so this kind of reinforces that,” Tory mentioned. And he doesn’t thoughts Edmonton being chosen to host the convention finals and Stanley Cup Final, even when it means the Maple Leafs win their first championship since 1967 in Alberta.

Tory has already made preliminary plans for the Cup celebration.

“If it needs to be a one-car parade with no spectators on Bay Street, we will have such a parade,” Tory mentioned. “So long as the one car has the Stanley Cup in it, I won’t care beyond that.”

Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault hopes the return of hockey can characterize one small step in a return to normalcy.

Vigneault has good purpose to hope after spending a part of the NHL break in his native Quebec. His first cease was visiting his dad and mom at a senior care residence, the place his 87-year-old mom is battling dementia.

Both got here out on their second-floor balcony, from the place he loved a transient chat.

“It was a cold day in May, but it was a good day for my mom. She recognized me,” Vigneault mentioned. “This moment was no doubt the highlight of my quarantine.”

___

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed.

___

For extra AP NHL protection: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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