As the National Hockey League gets closer to Phase 3 and 4 of their Return to Play plan, a number of coaches weighed in on the risks and concerns leading up to training camp, which is scheduled to open July 10.
TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun talked to a number of older coaches for a story in The Athletic about how safe they will feel coaching this summer if the Return to play goes as scheduled.
Here is some of what they had to say:
Montreal Canadiens head coach Claude Julien, 60
“No doubt you’re thinking of the different options you may have, whether it’s wearing a mask, to what extent you are going to deal with your team and players. I know it may be a challenge behind the bench more than anywhere else but my thinking is that I need to be ready to adjust and have options when that time comes depending on where we are at with COVID and our hockey circumstance.
“That also means pulling myself out if I feel a real danger. My family and life are more important than my job at that point.’’
Winnipeg Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy, 61
“I think we’re all the same, I think everybody is worried about it, the players included. I mean, we’ve obviously never been through this before. I don’t think anybody knows how it’s all going to play out.
“Do we wear a mask? We’ll see what the NHL comes up with as far as the protocol for us behind the bench. I don’t know, it’s new for everybody. Am I nervous? Of course you’re going to be nervous. I’m a little bit older, could I get it easier than other people? I guess that could possibly happen. But I’m still going to coach and we’ll just go from there.’’
Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Jacques Martin, 67
“I don’t know, I’ve been prudent, I’ve been careful, but for some reason, I guess my belief is that I feel I’m in good condition for my health both physically and mentally. I guess I’m of the belief that when my times comes, I’m going to go.
“It’s funny, I haven’t been scared but I’ve been careful as far as when I go to the store I wear my mask, wash my hands and social distancing. I believe strongly in those things. I’ll continue to be careful. But when Sully asked me, I had no hesitation.’’
Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness, 65
“I’ve been giving it an awful lot of thought. Without a doubt. I’m 65. Am I nervous? Absolutely I am, to get this thing.
“We’ll have to see how it all looks when we get there. You’ve got to trust that the league and everyone is doing everything they can to protect us all. Until I get there and see how it’s all laid out. If the safety and precautions are being met, then yeah, we’ll go ahead with it.’’
Florida Panthers assistant coach Mike Kitchen, 64
“Well, it’s definitely crossed my mind. Especially in Florida, you’re looking at going down and having a training camp in Florida where the cases are spiking right now. Everyone is making plans, but there’s still a lot of unknowns right now, with the virus itself and how you contract it, right? I mean, there are so many different parts. What about the cleaning staff doing the rooms in the hub city? What about the people serving the food? What about the bus driver? They all go home.
“So yeah, there is concern. I’m just wondering, how do they have everything covered? I will definitely give it some thought.’’
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to LeBrun there will be a protocol for all participants in Phase 3 and 4, including coaches. There will be no age restrictions for coaches to participate in the NHL's return with each individual deciding whether they will return or not.
LeBrun also reached out to Michael Hirshfeld, executive director of the NHL Coaches' Association, who said their top priority is the coaches' safety.
“The health, well-being and safety of all of our coaches is our primary focus. In discussions with the NHL and Bill Daly about the return to play, we have been assured that our association will be included in decisions to help determine what is both safe and reasonable for all of our coaches.’’
And the excitement of returning to hockey is helping some coaches deal with any risks or concerns associated with coming back.
“I don’t want to stop living, put it that way,’’ Martin said.
“I just feel I’m fortunate to be healthy and hope it continues.’’
"Will do whatever is required. I know I’m old, but raring to go,’’ Joel Quenneville, the Panthers' 61-year-old head coach told LeBrun via text message.