Editor’s Note: Rob Simpson is covering the NHL Stanley Cup Qualifying Round and Round-Robin for National Hockey Now, Boston Hockey Now, New York Islanders Hockey Now, and Florida Hockey Now from the NHL Hub in Toronto. This is Simpson’s impressions of life in the Hub so far in the first installment of ‘Simmer’s Hub Diary’.
Let’s start with the simple reality that the NHL has successfully pulled this off. Barring someone in the hub, a player or team staff, breaking protocol, and doing something very stupid that ends up getting a lot of people sick, this bubble methodology will work.
NHL Weathered Phase 2 Storm
Back in Phase two when teams were showing up at rinks and the Tampa Bay Lightning had a half dozen or more positive COVID tests, the picture wasn’t so rosy. I was appropriately pessimistic. Yet again, however, an organization that has always impressed me with its event planning and execution has apparently done it again. I worked in the NHL New York office as a contracted “talent” for a few years and was always impressed with the event department more than any other. I’ve been to dozens of their parties, drafts, all-star games, etc. and have always marveled at the League’s ability to facilitate. Of course, there have been procedural hiccups at times over the years, media passes, or requests delayed or a little screwy, but the big picture execution has always been impressive. This one very likely takes the cake.
Spread Out In Press Box
Right in line with the aforementioned, I did have to circumnavigate a building I’m very familiar with to find the media entrance as advertised. It was kind of where they said it was, but it took an unusual walk through a labyrinth to get to that spot. A minor inconvenience; I was just mostly concerned about being too sweaty or overheated for when the health checkers took my temperature. Smooth sailing from there. Health check, security check, and credential pick-up went flawlessly. Up the elevator to what is normally the upper section seats for the fans at a Leafs game. No intimate press box. Our media perches are separated by way more than the two-meter social distancing recommendations. Try twenty meters. I’d need to send a carrier pigeon to reach some of my media pals.
Missing NHL Fan Hysteria
Meanwhile, the fans/no fans thing is emotionally a double-edged sword. I’ve watched enough practice scrimmages, rookie tournaments and preseasons to be used to hockey with few or no fans even at the highest level. And even when they’re on hand, I’m sometimes so focused on the work and the results that I’m not really paying a whole lot of attention to the noise. From upstairs it is a little weird. It’s too noisy between games and between periods. We don’t really need to be blasted out of the building with music when we’re trying to work. Not sure who the music is for frankly. It’s OK to be quiet NHL — shhh, nobody is there. Silence can indeed be golden.
The flip side; I’ve been in attendance where I know for a fact the fans made a difference. Emotions were carried, momentum was changed, teams were lifted. And of course, magical moments where big goals were scored and “the roof came off the building.” Nothing replaces those hairs-standing-up-on-your-arms moments. But for now, as one football coach made famous; “it is what it is”. We’ll live with the generic.
August NHL Madness Will Do
The other weirdness is pretty straightforward: we’re watching playoff hockey in August.
As for the action, the same intensity no doubt. No emotional lift from the crowd or for celebrating goals but the violence, angst, and intensity remain intact. Because it’s the Cup, as they say.
Deal With It Media
I don’t have any complaints about not getting a chance to schmooze with the players, staff, and media downstairs. I miss them, no doubt; the camaraderie for all of us is the greatest part of the sport. I once went to 31 NHL games in 31 cities in 31 days mostly so I could see all my pals and cohorts I hadn’t seen in a while. It’s what it’s all about … besides the Cup of course. So no whining allowed media. They don’t need us schlepping around downstairs potentially coming from the outside and infecting the bubble. The players and staffs need to be in a cocoon for this effort won’t work. We have to sacrifice face-to-face exposure for the good of the whole thing. This isn’t regular season baseball – it’s an environment that can be and should be controlled.
Circling back, I marvel at the NHL tarps covering all of the seats downstairs, all the graphics, the lights, and the changing of the board advertising depending on who’s considered the home team. It’s a Ph.D. in marketing and execution — there’s the reason I never worked in the event department. So congratulations NHL and Lord Stanley. You’re the guy who donated the chalice that inspires us to go through all of this nonsense. Oh, and the TV and ad’ revenue of course.
Game on! We’ll pass along any other oddities and weirdness as it’s observed along the way. In the meantime, as I always like to say, enjoy the hockey action.