ST. PAUL -- The first batch of Minnesota Wild players were introduced to their “new normal” earlier this week when they were let back into TRIA Rink to begin small-group practices.
“It was obviously strange to see everyone in a mask and you can’t really see their face, but at the same time, it was still nice to be back in there and feel like you’re doing something,” goalie Devan Dubnyk said.
Dubnyk was one of a few players who went back to TRIA this week as the Wild move into the NHL’s Phase 2, which allows teams to have voluntary small-group practices after submitting to COVID testing. Dubnyk said he was tested on Monday and his results were cleared Tuesday. Trainer John Worley gave a quick presentation to players before their first workout, Dubnyk said. But other than the masks, most everything seemed normal to him.
The NHL is hoping to move toward Phase 3, which will be the start of training camps, around July 10, although safety protocols must be agreed upon by the league and the players before then. Phase 4 would be the 24-team playoff tournament.
Dubnyk said Carson Soucy, Ryan Hartman, Louie Belpedio, Kyle Rau and Mat Robson also were in attendance for the first skate on Wednesday.
“Four skaters and two goalies, not the optimal skater-to-goalie ratio,” he joked. “But it was fun to get back out there, get the equipment back on, see some pucks coming. It was a nice getaway, for sure. It’s been a long time.”
Dubnyk said he expects more teammates to join next week as the NHL moves closer to its return. Players who enter the rink will have to undergo temperature checks and fill out a symptom survey. Masks are worn within the facility.
While the Wild haven’t yet reported any positive rests, the NHL announced last week that 11 of the 200 players tested since training facilities opened earlier this month have tested positive. The Tampa Bay Lightning reported three, along with staff members, prompting the team to shut down its facility.
“(I’m) paying attention to all of it, obviously, and I think that guys are I wouldn’t say super concerned about it,” Dubnyk said. “I think it’s something that when you take a giant group of people and test them when normally they wouldn’t get tested, it’s been said that a lot of people have had COVID and are asymptomatic, so I wouldn’t say that it’s super surprising that you’re getting some positive tests.”
Whether those positive tests would shut down the NHL — or any other professional sports league — before they ramp back up again is yet to be seen. The NHL has been suspended since March 12 and before a return, players would need to vote on a return-to-play proposal.
“Things just seem to keep pushing forward, so as this has gone on and getting on the ice yesterday, everything’s starting to feel more real,” Dubnyk said. “…July 10 seems a little quick for what needs to be done between then and now. But at the end of the day, a vote of any sort on anything can happen on July 9, and if it’s voted on, then we can start on July 10.”
For now, the team is preparing as if that’s the date, Dubnyk said. Practices, for now, will likely be three days a week, he said.
“The last time I put on equipment was March 11, so it was nice to get back out there and see some pucks and get in front of a couple,” he said.