The Flyers have badly wanted a normal season ever since last season ended. Actually, probably before that. They may have even had dreams of a normal season amid the long and real nightmare of last season.
When the Flyers' 2020-21 campaign mercifully came to a close, Alain Vigneault pleaded for everyone to play their part to best ensure normalcy in 2021-22.
"I need a normal season," the Flyers' head coach said in May. "I need people to go out and get vaccinated so that we can have a normal season next year. I’ve been here two years and we haven’t had one of those."
The Flyers have backed up their words. With rookie camp commencing this week and giving way to main camp next week, the club announced Tuesday it will reach a full COVID-19 vaccination rate by the beginning of this season.
"We'll be fully vaccinated for the start of the season, for sure," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "We’ve had a great response from staff and players and we’re looking forward to having hopefully a much more normal season than last year. The response has been great from everybody."
The league is not taking an unvaccinated status lightly. Earlier this month, the NHL and NHLPA established a 27-page COVID-19 protocol for the 2021-22 season. The preventative measures are meticulous and thorough. In summation of key parts, a club has the right to suspend an unvaccinated player without pay if the player is unable to participate because of a positive coronavirus test or preventative measures in the protocol. Also, per the protocol, "any person whose job, role, position or access entails or entitles them to have personal interactions (within 12 feet) with club hockey operations personnel (including players) must be fully vaccinated."
Regarding the Flyers' players and staff being educated on the COVID-19 vaccines, Fletcher said it has been "a collaborative effort" and the club has had "great resources" provided by the league and the players' association.
"It's been a joint effort with the NHL and the NHLPA, the medical consultants and the doctors that work with both the NHL and the NHLPA," Fletcher said. "This goes back to last season once we got into the spring — April, May and June in particular — when the vaccines became readily available to hockey players and to our staff. The response at that time was great. The league and the union put out information, had medical experts available to speak with players that maybe had questions they wanted answered. I think the response from our organization, from our staff certainly and our players, has been great. I can just tell you we're going to be ready to go."
During the unorthodox, 56-game regular season last year in the pre-vaccine world of COVID-19, the Flyers and many other teams were heavily impacted by the virus. The Flyers had an NHL-mandated shutdown from Feb. 9-15 and six players ended up going through 14-day quarantines after testing positive. The hiatus had damaging ripple effects on the Flyers' season. The team got its full lineup back March 2 and went 6-10-1 in the 17-game month. The Flyers, who went from Feb. 27 to March 31 without having two days between games, were eliminated from playoff contention with six games left on their regular-season schedule.
"It was really challenging," Fletcher said in May after the season. "Maybe some teams handled it better than we did. I think of the 28, 29 players that were around our team this year, counting the taxi squad, 20 players over the course of the last five or six months had COVID. We got hit pretty hard at various times."
Since April, the Flyers have been a driving force in encouraging people to get vaccinated. They launched a "take your shot" campaign and hosted a vaccine site at the Wells Fargo Center during the team's regular-season finale. For fans that got vaccinated, the team offered two free tickets to a select 2021-22 game.
"Through our partnership with Penn Medicine, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, local health officials, and others, we’ve had a strong voice in encouraging vaccination across the region," Valerie Camillo, Flyers and Wells Fargo Center president of business operations, said in a statement released by the team Tuesday. "Setting a positive example is important to us and we are proud to have our entire team vaccinated before the start of the season."
The NHL is returning to its traditional 82-game regular season with full capacity crowds in 2021-22. The Flyers, following the dread of last season and an active summer, are excited for it.
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