And I was far from being the only one.
If anything stands out from the fog of lockdown life in April, it is the real concern of those I would speak with in various corners of the hockey world who thought the season would be lost.
It was a scary and uncertain time, and in many ways it remains scary and uncertain five months later.
So it’s a bit surreal to be going to the airport today for my first flight since March. I am filled with gratitude as I venture west from Edmonton to be one of the few people inside Rogers Place to cover the conference final and the Stanley Cup final.
I don’t know how many sacrifices it took to make this happen. Players are now entering their seventh week of life behind fences, which has forced them to give up some fairly basic personal freedoms in order to compete safely.
The same goes for hundreds of team staff, league staff and my broadcast colleagues. People who love what they do and feel lucky to do what they do, but have never been invited to work in such difficult conditions as these.
He was recounting what veteran Dallas Stars coach Rick Bowness had to say after a big victory last month. His team had just eliminated the Calgary Flames in the first round in a Wild 6 game when he broached the subject without being prompted: “People don’t understand how hard that bubble is. It’s great that we’re playing and the league is back, but it’s tough.
The Vegas Stars or Golden Knights will end up spending over 60 nights at the JW Marriott in Edmonton when all is said and done here. They may ultimately see it as a small price to pay if they get their hands on the Stanley Cup before they go.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders have just joined them inside the West Hub, which should serve as a reminder of how clearly visible the end goal is: The last teams standing with a championship shot are now housed under one. roof.
It is remarkable that the NHL managed to go from training camps in 24 cities to competitive two bubbles to the Final Four in Edmonton without producing a positive COVID-19 result. This is a testament to well-thought-out protocols and the commitment of those with access to the secure area to follow them, as well as communities that had limited the broadcast willing to welcome them.
The result of all these efforts was manifested on the ice. Hockey, overall, has been fantastic.
It gave us the chance to see Oskar Lindblom return to the lineup for the Philadelphia Flyers after being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma and missing most of the season. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy a Vancouver Canucks inspired race that lasted longer than many could have imagined. There was the Dallas-Colorado series sugar high – which scored 57 goals, the sixth-highest in NHL playoff history, and was punctuated by a Game 7 hat trick of the little known Joel Kiviranta, ably nicknamed “Finn-derella” by my colleague Mark Spector.
I have attended more than 40 games at the Scotiabank Arena and I will not soon forget the eight period marathon between Tampa and Columbus. It’s the first time I’ve missed dinner because a game doesn’t end.
The Lightning has long been in heroic overtime, finishing the Blue Jackets with a Brayden Point goal in extra time before eliminating the Boston Bruins on a Victor Hedman.
Some crazy returns stand out. Toronto’s three goals in the final four minutes of settlement with the goaltender drawn to avoid elimination against Columbus, and the Boston Bruins methodically turning the tide against Carolina in the third period of Game 4 in their first round series.
Along the way, players resoundingly answered our biggest question: Would games played in the summer, in empty arenas, after more than four months off during a pandemic, still look like the playoffs?
The intensity has been evident since the puck dropped on August 1.
Whoever ends up lifting the Cup over the next few weeks will be considered a worthy champion. No need to even consider appending an asterisk when these names are engraved in silver.
And if there’s one lesson I learned from all of this, it’s the importance of just putting one foot in front of the other. Stay in the moment and persevere.
The NHL would not have been able to succeed without a group of people who are very committed and willing to put their heads down and work during the most uncertain time our generation has ever seen.
I congratulate them for these efforts.
Witnessing the presentation of the Stanley Cup is something that I have cherished every time I have been there, but I will savor it even more after all of this.