The Beijing Olympics a step forward for those in the NHL playoff bubbles
BEIJING — Jordan Weal is happy to have more outdoor space than just a sidewalk. Leo Komarov is happy that there is more to do outside of hockey. Eric Staal prefers the atmosphere.
Being confined to the Beijing bubble may be new to some Olympians, but it’s a familiar feeling for the dozen hockey players and two coaches who were in one of the NHL playoff bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton in 2020. Based on the extra space and ability to see other athletes and different sports, that might even be an improvement.
“Yeah, that’s better,” said Staal, Canada’s captain who was in the Edmonton bubble with the Minnesota Wild. “You’re with your team and you can walk around in the bubble, and the NHL was a bit more difficult with corridors and walls in streets and only in hotels, so a bit different, of course. That has I me feel much better.”
The Olympic bubble is different in many ways, not least in that it’s almost two years into the pandemic and nearly everyone involved is vaccinated. It’s also a much shorter period: about three weeks before the gold medal game, while the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Dallas Stars spent 65 days in quarantine until the end of the final of the Stanley Cup.
This time there are fans, but with fewer than 1,000 guests selected in the building, games are almost as quiet as the empty Scotiabank Arena and Rogers Place when hosts China are off the ice. There are still daily virus tests and the wearing of masks.
“It’s mentally tough for everyone, but that’s how it is,” said Weal, who was in Toronto with the Montreal Canadiens. “It’s the world right now, and hopefully as soon as we can, we can get out of it and start moving forward, bringing society back to what it was.”
Some of the feelings about the Beijing bubble depend on the bubble and the hotels the players were staying in. Those at the Fairmount Royal York in Toronto like Weal and Canadian coach Claude Julien at the JW Marriott in Edmonton had far less space than those at Hotel X in Toronto. , which had a passage to the football stadium for hanging out and running on the grass.
“We weren’t allowed to go outside,” said Finnish defenseman Sami Vatanen, who was at Royal York with the Carolina Hurricanes. “There was a little place like this where you could hang out, but here you can go for walks and you can cycle or you can go for a run. You can do almost anything you want outside, so that’s good. I think we have a bit more room here anyway than we had in Toronto.”
Swede Lucas Wallmark, who was in Toronto with the Florida Panthers, said the food was better in the NHL bubble, which had Tim Hortons coffee trucks among the options. His Olympic teammate Joakim Nordstrom, who was in Toronto with the Boston Bruins at Hotel X, also pointed out: “There was still a restaurant or a bar open where you could go for a beer.
Bad luck in Beijing, which has no alcohol available inside the village.
“But you can bring stuff here if you want,” Vatanen said.
More than a decade has passed since then-Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette instituted a drinking policy that players called a “dry island,” which would aptly describe the experience of this year’s Olympic Games. Czech star David Krejci, who was a teammate with Nordstrom with the Bruins, said: “You don’t have a bar, you don’t have a lot of booze, but that’s not why we’re here.
The players are in Beijing trying to win a gold medal, so the motivation is similar to chasing the Stanley Cup. US coach David Quinn, who was in Toronto with the New York Rangers, said today’s athletes are used to entering bubbles now, 23 months into the pandemic – and there are almost universal agreement that it is a small price to pay to play in the Olympics.
“That’s why you compete every day,” Wallmark said. “You want to win. If you have to go through a bubble or whatever, it’s worth it. And if you win, it’s a really cool experience and it’s something that I would say almost everyone would go through there for the chance to win.”
Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno
More from AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/winter-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports