Training camps opened across the NHL on Monday, marking the start of Phase 3 of the league's return to play plan and bringing us all one step closer to the postseason. But even though hockey may be "back" it sure does feel a lot different. The practices, once open to the public, are now closed. Most of the media are covering camp from home with only a few sitting at their own tables above the rink, each wearing a mask. Unless they are on the ice or conducting interviews on Zoom, the players are in masks wherever they go.

Hockey may be back, but not in the way anyone is used to.

"It's been weird," Lars Eller said. "I think it was most weird in the beginning coming back and doing these tests and seeing everybody wear masks, but now it's just become normal every day. It's almost you notice someone without a mask now. That's the weird thing, right? That's where we are now."

Professional athletes are known as creatures of habit and the Capitals players are no different. All of those habits now must be cast aside as the players adjust to the health and safety protocols imposed by the NHL and NHLPA.


That's the reality of trying to play hockey in a pandemic.

"On the ice is normal," Alex Ovechkin said. "On the ice is same rules what we have before. But soon as you step off the ice in the locker room everybody have to wear a mask. It's kind of weird, but I'm pretty sure we're going to get used to it."


"Obviously, it’s things we’re not used to, but for the most part, every other day you just spit in a little tube and then you go onto the rink," T.J. Oshie said. "Obviously, it’s not as comfortable wearing a mask as it would be without, but as far as on the ice stuff it feels like a normal training camp except for we’re kind of ramping things up as we go, which I think is great. I think it’s saving guys from getting hurt. But just less numbers out there, so more reps. Unfortunately, it’s kind of becoming a little bit normal going around with a mask and not being able to hug the guys, but it’s fine and we’re grinding through it.”


For their part, the players understand and accept the precautions being taken. No one wants to play hockey more than they do and they want to be able to do it in a way that is safe both for them and for their families.

"if we get a chance to play hockey we are going to do whatever we can to make it work," Brenden Dillon said.

He added, "I think our staff here has done an unbelievable job of making us feel safe and ultimately it is going to be about these next couple weeks before we can get to the bubble. We’ve been assured it is going to be as safe as it can be there and a little bit of an unknown until we can get there and get into that routine. It is going to be a little different setup than in your home dressing room, that comfortability that we’ve gotten used to. I think everybody if we can all do our part and realize that with this crazy circumstances we have to be safe.”

The trade-off, however, is that the game they loved and have played for essentially their entire lives looks and feels a lot different than ever before.

"It's been an adjustment, but the whole world's adjusting and we're just adjusting with it," Eller said. "Now it's just started to feel normal. We see every single person around you doing the same thing, it becomes the new normal."

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