NHL players can often seem larger than life. They are celebrities in peak physical condition who get paid millions of dollars to play in arenas full of tens of thousands of screaming fans in games that are broadcast on television often nationally. And yet, none of that matters in a time like this. With the coronavirus spreading throughout the world, all sports just don't seem to matter. At this moment, the real superstars are the doctors and nurses on the frontlines battling against the virus while the hockey players we view as superstars remain at home, suddenly rendered remarkably ordinary in the face of a global pandemic.
"It was just kind of weird to see the world kind of stop," New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban said.
Certainly, professional athletes are not hurting financially the way so many people are in the midst of this crisis, but it is striking to see players who are idolized for their physical abilities suddenly trying to pass the time with Netflix and ordering takeout, all the while wondering what the future holds for their jobs.
All the skills and traits that make hockey players idolized in normal life don't matter to the coronavirus. A player is not immune because they have a great slap shot or a mean glove hand. Alex Ovechkin cannot one-time the virus away, nor can Sidney Crosby with a backhand or Andrei Vasilevskiy with an improbable save. All those players now find themselves in the same situation as ordinary people after the league paused the season on March 12: stuck at home, trying to enjoy some time with the family and trying to stay busy.
"Lots of stuff to do at house," Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin said. "Play with the little one, we're expecting another one in a couple of months, I'm trying to do some more workout as well, but it's getting boring, obviously. First week was kind of good thing. We're relaxing, we chilling and right now it's kind of getting boring right now."
"That first week, you're just excited to be around the family," Columbus Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said. "We don't really get this time. Let's be honest, we don't really get at the end of March when you're gearing up for a playoff race, you're not really gearing up to be with the family. Your mind starts to stay with the team a little bit more. So I've enjoyed the past little while with my family and my kids. They definitely don't really understand why I'm home so much, but it's been nice. But it's getting to a point now where you just start to now feel like things aren't right."
In addition to spending time with the family, players are also finding other creative ways to fill their downtime. New York Islanders forward Anders Lee bought a Peleton and goes jogging with his two dogs. Subban and Foligno both are watching "Tiger King" on Netflix and many players are learning how to use Zoom for the first time to video conference with the media.
Caps defenseman Brenden Dillon, who only recently checked out of the Arlington hotel he had been staying since getting traded from the San Jose Sharks, explored all the various takeout options of the Washington, D.C. area.
"Not doing too much in the way of outside," Dillon said in an interview with NBC Sports Bay Area's Brodie Brazil. "I've been walking around and grabbing some to go. If you ever need good pick up options in Arlington, Va. or the D.C. area for food, I'm your guy."
There are, of course, greater concerns than just passing the time and that is what led to the NHL pausing the season in the first place.
The spread of the coronavirus puts everyone at risk. Even if professional athletes are considered low risk because of their physical fitness, that does not mean they cannot develop complications or that they could not spread it to their friends and family.
"It's extremely serious," Lee said. "You have friends and family in the area or whatnot and you hear stories about them coming down with it or someone at school so it's extremely prevalent around here and you just want to give as much support you can to anyone you can because we're all kind of, this quarantine thing, we're all in it together and whether it's staying in touch or facetiming or doing whatever, I think it really goes a long way because this is something no one's really dealt with before and we all just got to figure it out together."
Now the NHL players face the same uncertainty as everyone in that there is no set timetable for when they can get back to work.
The information around the coronavirus seems to change day by day, sometimes even hour by hour. Because of that, it is nearly impossible to predict when life could return to normal. For NHL players, that means not knowing if and when the season could resume and what it may look like when it does.
That uncertainty that comes with the season -- and in some respect, life -- being on hold is a frustrating reality.
"I think in the grand scheme of things all of us want to get back to work whether you're a hockey player or you're anybody, we all want just normality and to go back to what we know," Dillon said.
He added, "I think everybody had something to play for and I think when something like this happens, you're just first and foremost wanting everybody to be healthy and safe, but you are trying to manage how do I stay in shape? How do I eat right? How do I continue to be a hockey player in your right mind when a lot of things are closed down or for health issues you know you shouldn't be in a certain spot? There's a lot of what-ifs right now I think for a lot of us. For players, we're trying to eat as healthy as we can, trying to be as healthy as we can and stay in shape and again just kind of taking it week by week."
"It's hard," Foligno said. "It's a mental game right now. But we know it's for the right reasons. So I think you hold onto that and seeing what's going on around the world, it's kind of kept everything into perspective for us."
That perspective is that as much as we love hockey and we love sports, the health and safety of everyone is more important. Everything else is secondary to that, even history.
"It'll be nice to score again 50 goals or reach those milestones, but right now our mind is on just trying to be safe," Ovechkin said. "It's a scary situation. It's a scary moment for people all around, not only us. You think about those little things, but as soon as you start thinking worldwide and what's going on in the world, it's scary. So my mind right now, it's not about 50 goals or catching the Great One or somebody else, my mind right now is about doing the best what I can do or what my family can do to be safe and to get over it."
We all know Ovechkin as a superstar, all-time great player. But right now, he's not that. Right now he's a husband and a father of one with another on the way. That's true of all hockey players. Without the ice, without the games, they are just people, just like the rest of us trying to figure out how to keep themselves and their families safe. We are all navigating a unique world no one has experienced before and the staggering implications have left them thinking more about those things in life that are more important than hockey.
"Do what you can in your own neighborhood for the people around you and the families and everyone that's come down with the virus or is having a tough time," Lee said. "Use this time to hop on a phone call with someone you haven't talked to in a while or something like that. We'll all stick together and come out of this."
"The most important thing right now is take care of your family, take care of yourself," Ovechkin said. "Try to help if somebody needs the help. Because right now we are together and we have to fight through it together."
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