NASHVILLE, Tenn (WKRN) – Sunday afternoon, a handful of outlets – including ESPN – reported the NHL planned to close the locker room to media amid concerns of the spread of coronavirus.
News 2 reached out to a spokesperson from the Nashville Predators who were minutes away from dropping the puck in Dallas at the time the news broke.
The spokesperson told us, “We have not heard anything from the league. We will be operating business as usual until they communicate anything.” So, Nashville allowed media into the locker room for interviews immediately following their 1-0 win over the Stars.
However, the home team quickly went into action. The technical staff at American Airlines Center set up a press conference area for players and shut down the locker room to media following the game.
A day has passed since that game, and still no official direction from the NHL. So, the business-as-usual mantra carried over to Monday’s practice at Centennial Sportsplex and corresponding locker room press availability. After about an hour on the ice, we picked up our cameras and mics and headed into the may-soon-be-forbidden area to interview players.
Business as usual.
Generally, our time is spent grilling the pros about topics such as line struggles, the playoff chase and daily in 2019 – the power play. A few hockey-specific questions made their way in, but similarly to the virus, the fear and response from the sports community has spread with equal fervor and unknowns.
“It’s impossible not to be aware, it’s what everybody is talking about,” said Predators forward Filip Forsberg.
It’s not just talk. Two days ago, the International Ice Hockey Federation Council canceled the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship sighting a recommendation made by public health experts. Before that happened, Italy banned fans from attending sporting events, including the Italian soccer league.
Neither of those examples is on U.S. soil as the epidemic is much more severe in places like Italy and China, where the number of those affected is in the thousands and deaths in the hundreds. However, with 22 deaths and counting in the United States, precautionary planning for major events is underway.
The NBA has taken swift action by making it mandatory for teams to distribute hand sanitizer to players and staff and instructing players to limit autographs and handshakes with fans.
“They told us to be careful with fans, too. But yeah, I think you just have to be aware of it,” said Predators captain Roman Josi.
The Association has also floated the idea of playing games without fans, following in Italy’s footsteps. Nobody wants that. Nobody.
“That would be worst-case scenario, so hopefully we don’t have to go that far,” said Forsberg.
While the NHL has yet to formally announce any league-wide mandates, players say they have been instructed to take precautionary measures similar to what the public has been told.
“It’s definitely a topic, but I think we got some guidelines from the league,” said Josi. “What to do, obviously wash your hands and all that stuff, and just be aware of it. Pretty much hygiene stuff.”
Although COVID-19 hasn’t directly impacted the Predators, illness definitely has. Guys like Pekka Rinne, Nick Bonino and even behind-the-scenes staff members have suffered from the residual affects of increased time spent in close quarters and a grueling travel schedule. Two weeks ago Colton Sissons told me they pass around hand-sanitizer like candy on the team plane and everyone has their own designated water bottle for practice and games.
We’re in the early stages. Ryan Ellis saying tongue and cheek while microphones crowded his personal space, “I thought they banned you guys from the locker room.” We laughed, he laughed, “looking forward to that.”
“It’s something to be concerned about, but right now we seem to have been unaffected and hopefully it stays that way.”