Canadians return to play for camp opening day, but not normal


BROSSARD, Que. – They came from near and far, from downtown Montreal and La Prairie, Quebec, from various other regions of Canada, Finland, Sweden, Slovakia and the United States. They gathered under one roof, on a clean sheet of ice, and for a practice so fast, clean, energetic and intense that you would have thought that it was taking place in mid-season – and not in mid-July .

It was as if it was a normal day at the Montreal Canadiens training center on the south shore, a day for hockey, a day like so many before her in this city and in this particular place.

But to say that he thought this way of doing it for anyone involved would be to distort the truth.

“I think getting on the ice and training – yes, that was normal,” said Canadian captain Shea Weber. “But I don’t think the rest seems normal. ”

How could it seem normal? A training camp for a team to prepare for a Stanley Cup tournament in which they did not win their place; a training camp that takes place in the summer, in the middle of a heat wave and with a pandemic that changes almost all aspects of the experience, except for the exercises on the ice, is anything but normal.

If it was strange for the coaches and the players, it was the same for the media who introduced themselves one by one, put their masks on their faces, had their temperature checked, filled out medical forms and went then installed at the designated tables parked six feet apart.

We opened a Zoom press conference at 11:30 a.m. with the Canadiens’ general manager, Marc Bergevin, which was interrupted several times by technological failures and comments.

To be expected? Of course.

Ordinary? Not even close.

But that’s what we have at the moment, and that’s what we will likely have in the foreseeable future.

Towards the end of Bergevin’s call, the Canadiens’ coaches and players rushed to the ice.

But not all.

Defenders Brett Kulak, Xavier Ouellet and Josh Brook – players who participated in informal skates in Brossard during phase 2 of the NHL return to play protocol – were notably absent. And for undisclosed reasons due to the NHL’s new injury / illness disclosure policy.

Granted, a report of The Athletic On Sunday, three Canadiens players tested positive for COVID-19. The report was then updated on Monday to indicate that two of them were false positives. It would be reasonable to assume that these three players were Kulak, Ouellet and Brook.

But without confirmation from the players, the team and the league, Kulak, Ouellet and Brook were simply labeled “unable to train”.

Max Domi, the 25-year-old center with type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, was also absent.

Bergevin said Domi had chosen – after two weeks of discussions with the team, the league, his agent and health care professionals – to stay home in Toronto and wait seven to ten days before deciding s ‘it would be safe or not for him to participate. in training camp and in the matches that follow in late July-early August.

“We want to do it the right way with Max,” said Bergevin. “We are confident that he will be here, but it will be a decision made by the experts and Max together, and we will choose what is best for him. ”

As for Alexander Romanov, the Russian hope that the Canadians drafted 38th in 2018 and signed a three-year entry contract Monday morning: he will sort out the immigration problems and will go to Montreal, where he will put himself in quarantine for seven days, then I hope to join the Canadiens on the ice in Brossard.

Romanov will be allowed to burn in the first year of his contract, he will be allowed to train in phase 3 (if the calendar aligns accordingly), and he will be allowed to travel with the Canadiens as one of their 31 lineup players go to Toronto later this month as part of Phase 4.

But Romanov can’t play games, which raised the question of why Bergevin chose to contract him now.

“Just like a former player, you enter your first NHL training camp and you come back next year and it’s day and night,” said the general manager who has played 19 seasons in the 1984 league to 2004. “You are already there, you have rubbed shoulders with the players, you have rubbed shoulders with the staff and (it is) something on which (you cannot assign a value).

“We were able to do it and we did not hesitate on it … It’s just with uncertainty (when the next NHL season starts, and with Romanov having the option of not signing with Montreal and continuing to play in Russia), he wanted to be here and he was ready to come and we welcome him with open arms… In the long term, this will help him enormously. ”

With that settled, we focused on what was happening on the ice.

The practice took place at a breakneck pace. Canadians spent the first 50 minutes jumping from one exercise to the next, with an intensity that seems to increase with each passing second.

The line combinations were apparent from the start, and four goalkeepers swiveled in and out of the nets at both ends throughout.

Then training stopped, Weber led the team for a long time, and some occasional overtaking and shooting resumed for 10 minutes before clearing the ice.

It was your standard NHL training day. Kind of…

“It’s a weird atmosphere with all the rules, regulations and masks,” said Canadiens’ assistant captain Paul Byron during his joint zoom conference with Weber. “But it’s to keep us all safe, right?

“It’s weird. I think I saw yesterday that everyone here in Quebec must wear a mask when he goes out in public, but when we go on the ice, it is as if nothing has changed in the world for us. ”

Were the players worried about whether or not we were going to get to this point?

Of course they were.

“Honestly, I wondered every day whether it would work or not,” said Byron. “There is a lot going on outside the ice over which we have no control.”

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The 31-year-old forward had envisioned all of this from his house on the south shore, where he lives all year with his wife and two children.

Weber, who spends the summer in Kelowna, British Columbia, explained how strange it has been to get away from his family in the past two weeks – his wife and children have not returned to Montreal with him – and how difficult this part could be to move forward.

“It was difficult,” said the 34-year-old.

But Weber agreed to come back to play because, as he says, “This is an opportunity we need to take advantage of. ”

“By playing in the league for 14, 15 years now, you learn that you are not taking these opportunities for granted,” added Weber. “They don’t always come.

“We have yet to enter (for the playoffs), we still have a difficult road ahead, a long road, but it is an opportunity that we probably would not have had three months ago. ”

The Canadians were 10 points from a playoff spot with 11 games left when the NHL season ended March 12. Nothing has been normal since.

But we continue.

“The NHL – we went through (phases) 1, 2 and 3 and obviously there will be 4 – they go beyond for player safety,” said Bergevin. “They didn’t just make this decision based on them; they had experts who looked at everything and the term bubble is very protective.

“There could be epidemics, it’s always possible. But they went above and beyond to make sure everyone was okay and safe, and that was included in the protocol. The players will follow this and I hope we can continue and be in the main cities on July 26. “


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