EDMONTON, Alberta – Jared Spurgeon figured out a strategy for packing clothes, sticking with basic colors so he can easily mix and match tops and bottoms, but there was one part of his wardrobe that concerned him as he filled his bags.
“I’m more worried about bringing enough underwear,” the Wild defenseman said recently by cellphone from St. Paul.
The Wild will leave the Twin Cities on Sunday for Edmonton, the Western Conference hub for the NHL’s 24-team, tournament-style restart, but players have no clue when they’ll return.
If they don’t survive a best-of-five qualifying matchup against Vancouver that begins next Sunday at Rogers Place, the Wild could be back home in mere days.
But should the team advance to the typical, four-round, best-of-seven format, its stay could stretch into weeks or even months. The last possible day the Stanley Cup could be awarded is tentatively set for Oct. 4.
“We’re packing a lot,” Luke Kunin said. “We hope to be there for a while.”
An open-ended business trip, however, isn’t the only switch for the Wild in a revamped resolution to the season that was halted March 12 by the coronavirus pandemic.
Teams will be huddled in a bubble and living under strict protocols while also playing the most meaningful hockey of the year amid a unique atmosphere.
“It’ll be different,” Ryan Suter said, “but we’re all willing to make the sacrifice and try to win.”
That’s one of the few familiar aspects of the NHL’s plan to finish the season, with the Stanley Cup at the end of the journey.
Players will notice changes as soon as they touch down in Edmonton, starting with the bus ride to downtown from the airport when they must sit socially distanced from each other.
They’ll also have to be spaced out throughout their time in the bubble, and players are required to wear face coverings when they’re outside their hotel rooms except when they’re exercising, skating or eating socially distanced from others.
Every player will have his own hotel room, and during the first five days in Edmonton, players are permitted only to train and engage socially with personnel from their own team. Otherwise, they’ll be confined to their rooms — downtime the Wild has already been anticipating.
“I haven’t been much of a reader since I’ve left college,” Ryan Donato said, “but it might be time to open up the books again.”
Ryan Hartman is bringing a virtual reality gaming system, and he also plans to catch up on the show “Yellowstone.” Marcus Foligno will be on FaceTime — “Probably going to annoy my family members a lot,” he said — and Suter will rely on his iPad and computer to stay busy.
The younger set, such as Jordan Greenway and Joel Eriksson Ek, is predicting quite a bit of video game action. “I can show the guys the ropes,” Greenway said.
Food for thought
No guests are allowed in players’ rooms, but families will be able to join players starting with the conference finals. Edmonton will host that round and the Stanley Cup Final, with Toronto housing the Eastern Conference playoffs until those stages.
Housekeeping will be offered every third day, but hotel staff can’t enter rooms while players are there. Each team will have its own space at the hotel for meetings, meals and training along with an exclusive VIP area. There also will be a lounge area for each team at Rogers Place, and clubs will set up in one of six locker rooms the night before their games.
Aside from ordering room service, players can eat from 14 on-site restaurants with cuisines ranging from steak to vegan. Modified buffet-style meals also will be offered, and players can use the concierge to order meals, pharmacy needs and items from grocery and department stores. Laundry service will be available at $4 per pound.
A dress code isn’t being enforced by the league, but the Wild has adopted its own — deciding to wear team-issued polos and pants to games. “We at least want to look like a team and be presentable,” Zach Parise said.
A credential will be assigned to every player specifying where they’re authorized to go and who they’re allowed contact with, and this identification will get them into access points throughout the bubble. Testing will be conducted daily, and players will track their health on an app.
For the games, the NHL has curated each team’s goal horn and song and pump-up videos. The league also has specially produced videos that involve fans, and it will implement LED screens and stages without fans sitting in the seats. It will have access to EA Sports’ library for crowd noise for TV broadcasts.
When they are not playing or practicing after the first five days, players will have plenty of options to occupy their free time.
They can check out movie theaters and indoor/outdoor spaces for Ping-Pong, cornhole, basketball and even soccer.
“It has to be fun or otherwise it’s going to get old,” Suter said, “especially not having a whole lot to do.”
Here for hockey
Violating the rules for bubble life can result in penalties against clubs like fines or loss of draft picks, and those who leave without permission could be removed or face a strict quarantine upon return.
“The players know,” coach Dean Evason said. “They get it. We have been in constant communication with them.”
The circumstances are unusual and not what players are used to, but they haven’t forgotten why they’re doing this.
“We play hockey,” Kevin Fiala said. “That’s what we’re there for.”