The month of February has been a rough one for the Buffalo Sabres after nine players entered the NHL's COVID-19 protocols.
It started on Tuesday, Feb. 2 when forward Taylor Hall and defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen were the first players to be placed on the league's COVID-19 list. Since then, forwards Tobias Rieder, Dylan Cozens, Curtis Lazar and Casey Mittelstadt, as well as defensemen Brandon Montour, Jake McCabe and Rasmus Dahlin have entered the league's COVID-19 protocols.
While these players are all in the NHL's COVID-19 protocols, it is unclear as to whether these players tested positive for COVID-19, or they were deemed as close contacts of anyone who tested positive for the coronavirus. However, general manager Kevyn Adams said on Tuesday when addressing the Buffalo media that some of the players and staff that tested positive are symptomatic, while others are asymptomatic.
Also joining those nine players in the league's COVID-19 protocols is Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger, who was announced to have tested positive for the coronavirus last Thursday.
While the Sabres will be without those nine players and Krueger for some time, the rest of the team was able to return to practice on Tuesday after the players' PCR and POC tests all came back negative. Buffalo will now prepare to get back to game action on Monday, when the Sabres host the New York Islanders for the first of a two-game, back-to-back series at KeyBank Center.
Monday's matchup will kick off a stretch of games for the Sabres that will see them playing the final 46 games of the season in 83 days.
One of the players who was able to get back to work with his teammates this week was forward Kyle Okposo, who has been skating on a line with Jeff Skinner and Cody Eakin over the past few days.
Okposo missed some time to start the 2020-21 season due to a lower-body injury, but has since returned to play in five games. While the 32-year-old has yet to register a point this season, his play was starting to pick up again just before the NHL pressed pause on Buffalo's season.
The fifth-year Sabres forward took some time on Thursday to join Howard Simon and Jeremy White on WGR just before taking the ice for the morning session. He talked about getting back to work after a week off in quarantine, the upcoming stretch of games, and more.
Here is some of what he had to say:
Okposo on trying to get into an every day routine during a pandemic:
"It's been a really interesting year for everybody, and to speak on our situation, it has been challenging. To speak for myself personally, I had a groin issue right before the season started. I missed the first five games, and then played five and started to try and get back into a rhythm, and then 'boom', you're off for a week. So, like everybody, just trying to find your rhythm and trying to get into a routine, but that's kind of impossible with COVID-19. It rules our lives, unfortunately, and we're just doing the best we can with the rules that are in place and the time that we get to spend together."
Okposo on being back on the ice with his teammates:
"I know that we have a lot of guys that are not at the rink, but the guys that are, it's been awesome. The last two days, everybody's spirits have been high. Just to get back in the locker room, and talking about everything that's going on, and just spend time together; practice has been high-tempo, good-spirited, and everybody seems to be in a pretty good place. Just the comradery factor of being together has helped everybody a lot."
Okposo on preparing for the physical grind of the upcoming 46 games:
"Physically it's going to be tough. I don't think anybody has played that many games in that short of time, so that's going to be challenging, but we're going to get through it. We have a very good coaching staff [and sports performance team] that I'm sure we won't be practicing as much and just get as much recovery as possible. To speak for the guys we have, we have some good pros and a lot of good veterans guys that have been around and know how to take care of themselves, take care of their bodies and set good examples for the younger guys."
Okposo on being mentally ready to take on the upcoming schedule:
"Those first couple of games back, we're playing the Islanders, and they've been playing the whole time, basically. I know they missed the couple games against us, but they're going to be fresh. It's going to be like jumping on a moving train, so we're going to have to be ready to go mentally. We're going to have to make sure that we're sharp, and there's not really time for mental lapses and mental mistakes. We only have 46 games left, and we're looking to hit the ground running."
Okposo on his trust with the NHL to be safe during this COVID-19 pandemic:
"This is our job. This is my job, and I trust that the NHL and the teams of the league are going to put the best plan in full force that they can with the information that they have. No body is going to put us at risk needlessly, and information is changing by the minutes, by the hour. The league, the teams are all trying to do their best with the information at-hand. I feel as safe as anybody is going to in this uncertain time. Any time that you leave your house, there's uncertainty. There's that feeling of, 'am I going to contract COVID?', unfortunately, and that's just the reality with everybody. You're never going to feel 100% safe in this world, unfortunately, and right now, I trust the league, I trust the teams that they're doing the best they can with the information provided, and that's about as good as we got right now."
You can listen to the entire interview below: