If anyone around the hockey world needed a reminder of how touch-and-go this return-to-play process can be, they got it Friday.
First there was the report that the Lightning were temporarily shutting down their facilities after multiple players and staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Then we learned that Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews had tested positive in Arizona. And then Friday night, there was the NHL's official statement revealing that of the more than 200 players who have been tested so far, 11 have tested positive.
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk is among the Bruins players who have returned to the ice at Warrior Ice Arena for voluntary limited workouts, and on a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday, he talked about what the testing -- which is mandatory for every player entering a team facility -- has been like.
"I think the testing, it's pretty tedious, but it's necessary," Grzelcyk said. "I think the league and the teams are taking all the right measures to make sure the players are safe and as healthy as possible, and also the staff coming to the rink, keeping them in mind. It's been tough on everyone, but I think we're trying to do the best we can to make it a safe environment. We're really learning some things in this phase here and hopefully it'll make us better going forward with this whole thing."
The Bruins also had a player test positive nearly two weeks ago when Phase 2 began, but two subsequent tests for that player came back negative. Grzelcyk said hearing about positive tests for a teammate and other players around the league has been "eye-opening" and "a little nerve-wracking."
"First and foremost you want to make sure that whoever it was that tested positive is healthy and is taking all the necessary steps to ensure everything is going to go smoothly," Grzelcyk said. "It’s definitely eye-opening to here, but at the same time, going into it you certainly expect that to pop up. You see more and more cases popping up across the league, and that’s to be expected as well. But at the same time, it’s still a little nerve-wracking. You’re just not sure what this all means going forward. You want to make sure that those players and the people they’re around are staying healthy and staying isolated from whoever they’re around so that we can slow the passing of this all."
Grzelcyk said it's also a reminder that even though things are starting to open up a little more and they're getting back on the ice, this is still a serious situation and being able to actually play this postseason still isn't guaranteed.
"I try to realize the seriousness of the matter," he said. "I think we were all kind of in the dark the first couple days, or first few weeks, of what was going on. You watch the news and you see how serious this whole situation is. You just want to make you’re helping to be a part of the solution and making sure you follow all the guidelines the CDC has put in place.
"Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to get back soon. As we’re going to the rink and things like that, we realize there’s a little bit more freedom than maybe at first, but just to still have that in mind that people are losing their lives from this situation. You want to make sure you’re doing more good than harm, wearing a mask at all times, washing your hands, following those precautions so you don’t spread it on to other people. I think it’s a very serious matter. As bad as we do want to play, we realize that there are more important things in life. You have to make sure that other things fall into place first."
As far as the actual return of on-ice workouts themselves go, Grzelcyk said it's been great to get back to skating after so much time off.
"I was a little nervous, to be honest, hopping on after not getting a chance to go on for three months really," he said. "I was kind of pleasantly surprised at the first couple times. That was nice. It probably has to do with the fact that we were in the swing of things in the season and still had that mentality, especially now that we have that date thrown out there (July 10) of when training camp might start. I think that's given, at least me, some more clarity on things and when you need to be ready by. It's been good. It's been a joy to get back out there and see some of the guys again and just go have fun and break a sweat. It's been great mentally moreso than physically."