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Lightning coach, players adjust routines with NHL’s return-to-play protocols

Some players are finding themselves having to wake up earlier, but coach Jon Cooper says he misses his salad bar.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy talks with coach Jon Cooper (wearing ballcap) during a break in practice on July 13, 2020.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy talks with coach Jon Cooper (wearing ballcap) during a break in practice on July 13, 2020. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 19, 2020

TAMPA — More times than not, a person doesn’t realize how much they miss something until it’s taken away.

The Lightning have been forced to adjust their routine to ensure they’re following the new health and safety protocols in place for the NHL’s return-to-play.

Players and coaches can’t eat or drink anything 30 minutes before they take their COVID-19 test, which is taken upon their arrival at the rink. For some, that means getting up earlier to eat breakfast. For others, it means packing snacks for the rink after they take their test.

Coach Jon Cooper takes two soft-boiled eggs with him to training camp, typically eating each one after the skates. He also likes to drink a cup of coffee.

But there are two things Cooper especially misses from his daily routine.

“I’m a salad freak,” he said. “Sinfully, (I miss) the vanilla ice cream, too.”

While the salad bar and the ice cream might be easy to replicate at home, it helps having it at the ready at the rink. Cooper also might not have as many options to dress up his greens at home as he does with a full spread in the Lightning’s dining room.

“We’re pretty spoiled here,” Cooper said. “One of the big things, though, is making your own food and bringing your own food.”

The coach said it’s difficult for the players not to have food around because they’re athletes and skating in long sessions. The team tries to keep the players’ time at the arena following practice sessions to a minimum so they can get back home and eat a proper meal.

“They got to eat,” Cooper said.

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From the start, Cooper has said the team and staff have done really well with remembering to wear their facial masks when they’re not skating. Cooper normally wears a “standard throwaway” mask around the rink when he’s not on the ice.

Forward Blake Coleman has also had to adjust his eating habits. He wakes up earlier so he can eat at home before testing, but he said that hasn’t really impacted his normal schedule too much since he’s already up with his newborn child, Charlie.

“I kind of snack a bit more at the rink now than I used to,” he said. “You just kind of learn to adjust and find a new routine. It’s just making changes that work for you.”

Coleman said he likes to snack on Stinger protein bars and other things he can quickly grab around the rink.

“The trainers do a good job keeping us stocked with food,” he joked.

Forward Anthony Cirelli said he typically likes to grab a coffee before games. With the new protocols, eating has been a big part of his adjustment, especially since he can’t eat breakfast before the morning sessions.

“They’re easy fixes,” he said.

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At home now, Cirelli said he likes to make toast and a couple of eggs for breakfast. For lunch, he’ll change things up, but likes to make his chicken and rice combo. He tries to steer toward the easier meals to prepare so he can get good food quickly before and after he skates.

Defenseman Ryan McDonagh said wearing a face mask everywhere around the rink was a little adjustment he had to make when the team returned.

“You just have to keep in check,” he said. “In the grand scheme of things, when it counts, when you’re in the gym, in meetings and on the ice, especially, it feels like hockey, and that’s what’s important.”

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.