Editor's note: Sarah McLellan is covering the Wild during the NHL postseason in her birthplace of Edmonton, but first must spend 14 days confined to her hotel room. She'll write regularly to her father, who now lives in Arizona, with an update on life with limited freedom.

Dear Dad,

I made it! I’m back home in Edmonton, and it’s already Day 3 of my mandatory, 14-day quarantine. The first few days flew by and now that I’m finally unpacked and have organized my 285 square-foot abode for the foreseeable future, reality is starting to sink in that this is really happening. Hockey is coming back, and I will be one of the select few who gets to witness this historic return in person.

 

 

As eager and excited I am for that opportunity, it still feels surreal to be here. Truth be told, everything feels surreal nowadays. It’s been more than four months since the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season, but I also remember March 12 so clearly that it also feels like it could have been just a few days ago.

At that time, and for many weeks that followed, I didn’t know when I’d cover my next hockey game. So much was uncertain in the world let alone the NHL that I felt adrift, floating from day to day on a wobbly raft that was taking on water. All I knew for sure was that the lifestyle I had adopted as a sportswriter – airplane rides, hotel stays, dinners at restaurants and evenings in jam-packed arenas – was no longer safe. And I didn’t know when it would be again.

But this is part of who I am and what I do. I watch hockey and write about it. And as pieces of that routine have started to shift back into place, the transition feels familiar but also entirely new – like I’m scribbling my name but with my non-dominant hand.

 

 

Take the journey of getting here, for example. Instead of breezing onto the flight, the process was much more meticulous – on my end and with the airports. For starters, I had to gear up. I wore a thick pair of sweatpants, socks and sneakers and a long-sleeved shirt. I had two masks on and gloves, which made sweat drip down my wrists.

After a series of questions at check-in to confirm I could travel to Canada amid the border restrictions, an inquiry that never happened in normal times, I checked two huge suitcases and proceeded through security at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. I also had a carry-on duffel bag and a tote bag.

An over-packer for the shortest of trips, I didn’t let up amid these unusual circumstances. Since the length of my stay is based on how far the Wild advances in the 24-team postseason tournament, I could be in Edmonton for a few weeks or a few months. Not only did I pack multiple outfits and 10 pairs of shoes, but I brought five books to read, a 750-piece puzzle and workout equipment. I also didn’t forget snacks for my quarantine, plastic cups and cutlery – which I already used to spread cream cheese on my bagel this morning for breakfast.

I had my temperature checked twice during the day, and I was regularly reminded about the quarantine rules. In flight, the experience was also different. As I walked onto the planes, I was given a sanitizing wipe. I cleaned my seat, seatbelt, the window and screen in front of me. Beverage service was limited, but passengers were given a Ziploc bag with a few snacks and a small bottle of water.

 

 

No one sat beside me on any of the flights (MSP to Seattle, Seattle to Vancouver, Vancouver to Edmonton), and none of them appeared to be full. After clearing customs and taking an Uber to my hotel, it felt like I’d run a marathon. I had a red line across the bridge of my nose where my mask rested all day, and my shoulders were also red from hauling my duffel bag around like a backpack. But after I discarded my airport clothes to be washed when I’m free to do laundry, I surveyed the room and felt a sense of accomplishment. I’m here, and what comes next will be memorable.

Earlier this year, I thought about coming to Edmonton this summer – to visit Grandma, do some shopping at West Edmonton Mall and maybe catch some sun at Pigeon Lake. But I never imagined I’d be here sequestered in a hotel ahead of chronicling the NHL postseason in August.

And although covering games is a step toward normalcy, I still don’t have many answers. But maybe that’s the way it’s going to be. What I’m going to try to focus on is what I do know, and that’s the fact I have a job to do and we are talking hockey again.

I missed those chats over the last few months when we’d usually be glued to the television watching the Stanley Cup playoffs. I miss gawking at Connor McDavid’s speed and laughing at the latest David Pastrnak Dunkin’ Donuts commercial and dissecting the Wild’s results with you.

That is one of the lights at the end of this quarantine tunnel. So is the coverage I’m going to provide from Rogers Place to the Star Tribune’s readers. A gulp of fresh air will be cool, too.

Talk to you soon!

Love,

Sarah

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