The July sun baked the metal roof of the Capitals practice facility on Monday, as the team held their first practice of training camp. Today marked the start of Phase 3 of the National Hockey League’s Return to Play plan, after being out of action for four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with playoffs expected to start in early August .
In less than two weeks, the Caps will travel to Toronto to play in an empty arena — about as far from the “Rock the Red” atmosphere at Capital One Arena as you can get.
“I’ll have to use less f-words,” forward Tom Wilson said with a wry smile after practice.
While the three Capitals players who spoke to the media Monday expressed confidence in the NHL’s ability to resume play safely, camp opened just a day after the League announced that 43 players have tested positive for the disease so far — a cause for concern that the playoffs will run smoothly. Nine members of the Pittsburgh Penguins were pulled away from practice Monday and isolated from the team’s training camp after they had potential secondary exposure to COVID, making the Pens just the latest team to receive a COVID-related setback.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, however, was unconcerned with the situation the NHL is facing.
“Obviously we’re talking about we have to be safe, but everything seems fine,” he said. “Nobody’s worried about it, nobody’s talking about it.”
But with the media watching on high from behind plexiglass at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, everything felt a bit surreal. The Capitals conducted what amounted to two practices in one daily session, with separate groups of players hitting the ice at staggered times. Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said he wanted to minimize risks to his players’ health on their first official summer training camp.
“That was all by design, and the ultimate thing for us is to get to that hub city and try to avoid any possible situations with COVID and get there injury-free,” Reirden said. “That’s the number one thing here, especially in these first few days, is to lay that groundwork.”
When asked about the risks COVID-19 poses to players, Wilson provided the most straightforward answer. “It’s an infectious disease,” he said. “Anyone can get it. We’re going to do what we can.”