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NHL teams face logistical challenges as summer training camps officially open

Calgary Flames captain Mark Giordano’s words carry tremendous weight with his colleagues in the clean and sanitized locker-room at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

In fact, the 36-year-old Norris Trophy winner’s advice is salient to players of all 24 clubs competing in this year’s expanded playoff competition.

During training camp, players are free to do what they want when they leave the rink. There is no bubble, as there will be come July 26 when the teams report to their respective hub cities in Edmonton and Toronto.

As such, Giordano figures it best to proceed with the highest level of caution in the midst of a global pandemic.

“If you do something or go somewhere you’re not supposed to be and put yourself at risk, you could be risking your whole team or the start of all this,” Giordano said Monday. “Right now, you have to be smart.

“I know there are certain things guys have to do and obligations. But for the most part, the message – for me and all the other guys, we all get it – is to stay home and stay safe as much as possible. Let’s make sure we get to the hub city with our entire team healthy.”

WATCH | How safe are hub city bubbles?

As NHL hub cities Edmonton and Toronto prepare to host hundreds of players practising for the resumption of the season, there are concerns that “bubble” preparations don’t go far enough to prevent COVID-19. 2:05

NHL training camps officially opened on Monday, four months and one day after the league shut down due to the spread of the coronavirus.

In Pittsburgh, the Penguins held out nine players who might have had secondary exposure to a person who tested positive for COVID-19. In Toronto, star forward Auston Matthews confirmed he tested positive last month.

On the first day of training camp, most media questions normally centre around improving the power play or penalty kill.

This time around, the majority of queries focused on the emotions and logistical challenges of playing professional hockey during a pandemic.

Maurice ready for summer hockey

“It’s a good idea because I’m a hockey fan and I’m going nuts,” Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice said of summer hockey. “It’s the middle of July, I didn’t get to see playoffs. I want to see it.”

The NHL is banking on the fact he isn’t the only one.

“We have a responsibility, first to our health, I get that, but also we’re entertainers, right?” Maurice asked. “People want to watch hockey, they want to see it, so that’s our job, and we have a responsibility to do our job. So we’re ready to play.”

Not everyone is ready to play. As of Monday afternoon, six players had exercised their right to sit out: Karl Alzner (Montreal), Mike Green (Edmonton), Travis Hamonic (Calgary), Sven Baertschi (Vancouver), Roman Polak (Dallas) and Steven Kampfer (Boston).

WATCH | NHL officially announces hub city choices:

The NHL and its players’ union formally signed an agreement Friday that would see hockey return to action in 2 Canadian cities on August 1. 3:37

As a father of four, Edmonton goalie Mike Smith said the decision to play was agonizing.

“I had some pretty upset kids when I told them I was going to Edmonton and they were staying back.” Smith said. “The uncertainty of not knowing when you’re going to see them is probably the hardest thing.”

But like so many others, Smith, 38, landed on the potential benefits outweighing the risks.

“Obviously, a hard decision but one that ultimately came down to whether I wanted to keep my career going. I want to play the game that I love for as long as I can.”

The Oilers open the Stanley Cup Qualifiers Aug. 1 against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Jets and Flames meet that same day in Edmonton.

“If you can go in with a positive frame of mind – if you can go in and look at this as a challenge that’s exciting, have a little fun with this, get a little wired up for it – it could be a great thing,” Maurice said. “I don’t even know what those hardships are yet, to be honest with you. I know they’re coming, but I haven’t seen it yet.

“All of the difficulties that you’re going to have to win the Stanley Cup this year will be the best part of the memories.”

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