As the NFL and NBA have dealt with decimated rosters caused by COVID-19, the Bruins will try to learn from some of the precarious scenarios teams in different leagues have had to navigate.
In November, the Denver Broncos were forced to start practice squad receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback after the team’s four quarterbacks were put on the COVID/reserve list after one tested positive and the other three were declared high-risk close contacts. The Broncos became the first team to start a non-quarterback under center since 1965.
It’s not a spot the Bruins want to be in, especially at a critical position such as goaltender. So coach Bruce Cassidy is being cautious about keeping goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak distanced.
“With the pandemic here, the challenge we have in front of us, in reality, we’re trying to separate those two as much as possible in case there’s an outbreak … they both don’t have to be going into the tracing program,” Cassidy said. “It’s not them being positive, but it being around a positive person. So that’s the part that [stinks] about this for the players in terms of separating guys.”
While the Bruins have taken extra steps to keep players safe, some of the normal routines will have to be altered. For instance, the goalies sit next to each other in the locker rooms, which will have to change. Rask and Halak have developed a close working relationship, and necessarily have to be around each other. Some contact, Cassidy said, will be inevitable.
“I mean, they’re going to end up within six feet,” he said.
But he added that both of them have already talked with goaltending coach Bob Essensa about how it will look logistically.
“If they’re getting together with Bob, they’ll usually huddle around his desk and they’re going through some video and you’re in tight quarters,” Cassidy said. “You just can’t do that anymore. You’ve got to try to get people a little bit more spread out with doors open.”
Cassidy said it may mean splitting up the goalies and repeating the same thing twice in different meetings.
“I think that’s one of the better ways to avoid a little bit of risk,” Cassidy said. “I’ll use the Denver Broncos quarterback room, for example. We have to look at that and say, ‘Hey, how do you keep these guys apart?’ Someone from the group could test positive. It’s just a simple matter, contact tracing. They were in the same video room for X amount of time, they might say, ‘Well, those guys are out.’ ”
Seeing how the virus has thinned rosters in other sports, Cassidy said it’s better to be safe than sorry. The Dallas Stars, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Vancouver Canucks canceled practices last week for COVID-related reasons.
“It’s all a little bit of speculation, but it could happen and has happened in other sports,” Cassidy said. “I don’t know how it spread in Dallas and Pittsburgh, where they closed their facilities a little bit. So we’re just trying to do what we can in that regard.
“So that’s where that comes from. And it can make it difficult on guys that are or used to be in being together. But that’s the hand we’re dealt, and they’ll be fine.”
Outdoor game set
The Bruins will play the Flyers in the great outdoors, at Lake Tahoe, Nev., the NHL announced.
The game is Sunday, Feb. 21, at 3 p.m. on NBC. The Avalanche and Golden Knights will play the day before, also at 3 p.m.
“It is always an honor for the Bruins to be chosen to play in one of the NHL’s premier events,” Bruins president Cam Neely said in a release. “Each time we have played outdoors it has been a great experience for our players and fans, and we expect Lake Tahoe to be the same. It promises to be a unique environment which will make for a great TV viewing experience.”
The game will be the fourth outdoors for the Bruins. They defeated the Flyers, 2-1, in overtime, at Fenway Park in 2010. The Bruins also lost to the Canadiens, 5-1, at Gillette Stadium in 2016, and beat the Blackhawks, 4-2, at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.