When the National Hockey League pressed the pause button on the 2019-2020 season last week, it did so with the knowledge that one of its players would soon test positive for the COVID-19 virus.
“Following last night’s news that an NBA player has tested positive for coronavirus – and given that our leagues share so many facilities and locker rooms and it now seems likely that some member of the NHL community would test positive at some point – it is no longer appropriate to try and continue to play games at this point,” commissioner Gary Bettman wrote in his statement on March 12.
Bettman’s prediction came to pass on Tuesday night as the Ottawa Senators confirmed that an unnamed player had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus in a brief statement to the media just before midnight.
On Wednesday, the team said that players “are being accessed and tested under the supervision of health authorities.” They declined to confirm the number of suspected cases that they could be dealing with – only saying they are “actively monitoring players and staff.”
The club also wanted to make it clear that in their estimation, Senators players “do not pose a public health risk to the community.” The club says it instructed players and staff who were on the recent California road trip to self-quarantine on Saturday.
The league offices were notified of the positive test about three hours prior to that – around 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday evening.
“I got a call from the Ottawa Senators team doctor last night indicating that a player had tested positive for COVID-19,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Athletic’s Two-Man Advantage podcast on Wednesday. “It was really just a matter of time before we had a player test positive.”
The player is said to be exhibiting mild symptoms of the virus and is in isolation. The club says it is abiding by Ontario privacy laws in withholding the player’s name from the public realm.
After returning from the California trip, the Senators player started exhibiting signs consistent with the COVID-19 virus. After informing the club’s front office and medical personnel, he underwent a screening for the virus and the result came back as a positive.
Following the trail of how a Senators player may have contracted the virus is not difficult and, as Bettman had warned, it may have come directly as a result of being in a shared facility with an NBA team.
The Senators trip to California last week was riddled with warning signs of impending danger at a time in which the term ‘social distancing’ was in its infancy in North America:
- On Saturday, March 7, the Senators played a game against the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center. Two days earlier – on March 5 – Santa Clara County (California) had made a recommendation for a ban on large-scale gatherings being held in the area due to the concern of the virus spreading in a rapid fashion.
- The following day – with the Senators now in the Los Angeles area – the players and staff had a complete day off, enjoying some of the attractions in Southern California. A number of the players watched the Lakers-Clippers game together from a luxury suite at the Staples Center.
- On Wednesday, March 11 – in what would be their final game before the league was suspended – the Senators played the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Centre. The night before, the Lakers played host to the Brooklyn Nets – who have since confirmed four cases of the COVID-19 virus on their team.
- On Thursday March 12, the Senators flew back to Ottawa from Los Angeles in their charter aircraft following word that the NHL had paused its season. The club had to sit on their plane for a couple of extra hours on the tarmac in Los Angeles, as the flight plan – which was originally supposed to take them to Chicago – had to be altered to reflect a sudden return home. In total, the players and staff would have spent close to eight hours together on that plane – from the time they boarded to the time they de-planed in Ottawa.
In another wrinkle for the team, the Senators also saw goaltender Marcus Hogberg join the team in the middle of their trip to California. On Sunday, March 8, Hogberg rejoined the team in southern California, after spending close to a week back home in Sweden tending to a family emergency.
Hogberg was technically caught in a grey area, considering he left for Europe on March 1 – just a couple of days before the NHL enacted their own ban for employees travelling overseas. On March 4, the league had asked its own personnel to stop travelling overseas and if they had been to places such as Europe, they would need to adhere to a 14-day period of a self-quarantine.
Hogberg, however, didn’t fall into that category. That was deemed to be a directive aimed towards league employees and not players, so Hogberg was allowed to rejoin the Senators without any period of self-isolation. While he might seem like a prime candidate to be the vulnerable player, sources tell TSN that Hogberg was not the player who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
But since Hogberg was a teammate of the Sens player who is carrying the COVID-19 virus, there remains a chance he could still test positive in the days ahead.
Given that two NBA teams – the Utah Jazz and Nets – had multiple players test positive for the virus, there’s a chance the same fate could befall a couple more members of the Senators.