BRANDON — The Lightning resumed practice Monday morning at the TGH Ice Plex as a second player landed on the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list, a reminder that staying safe through a pandemic won’t be easy now that teams are playing a season outside the bubble.
Forward Blake Coleman was absent for Monday’s practice — the Lightning’s first time on the ice since Friday’s 5-2 win over Chicago at Amalie Arena — and will be placed on the protocol list. Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney was on the list Saturday and Sunday.
Less than one week into the regular season, the Lightning’s schedule already has been affected by the coronavirus. The team, on a five-day stretch with no games, had a predetermined day off Saturday and took Sunday as a precaution in the wake of McElhinney’s status.
There is plenty of ambiguity with the list. A player could have a confirmed positive test, show symptoms or have been in close contact of someone infected.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper couldn’t say anything about the availability of Coleman, a third-line forward who has two points in two games, or McElhinney for Thursday’s game in Columbus. Players, who get tested every day, must produce consecutive negative tests over a 48-hour span to clear protocol.
“We’ve got guys who can slot in there and fill these positions, and that’s why there’s a taxi squad,” Cooper said. “...And that’s part of winning. You’re not going to be able to go with the same 20 (players). And whether it’s following the protocol or somebody sprains their ankle, guys have to step in and we’re prepared for that.”
The news also comes as the Lightning are about to make their first road trip of the season, a four-game, eight-night trip to Columbus and Carolina, which in itself is a huge obstacle in remaining safe. On the road, players are restricted to the team hotel, arena and practice facility.
“The team that comes out of this, it’s got to be mentally strong,” forward Pat Maroon said. “...There are going to be times when we’re off for two weeks, there’s going to be times where players are off for two weeks or we’re going to be playing with a different linemate. The lineup is going to be changing so many times, so mentally, just kind of go out there and play.”
Cooper said the Lightning will have to draw from its experiences in the bubble, where the team formed a tight bond living together and seeing each other often on and off the ice. Even though they have more freedom to move around, they have to have the same unity to focus on staying out of potentially risky situations.
“It’s better to do it with the guys you’ve already gone through it with,” Cooper said. “...You’ve just got to look ahead and think for these first few months ahead of us here, we’ve got to do this for the common good of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and what is the best thing is to follow protocols and we did it in a bubble and we can do it again here.”
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Cooper also said that while the protocols and staying safe are priorities, it is important for players to find ways to get away. “(We need to ensure) hockey doesn’t become a 24/7 thing, even though we’re kind of pseudo-quarantined this entire season.”
Maroon said the team has to approach the entire season with no fear.
“You’ve just got to go through what you have to do about your daily life,” he said. “We know people are going to get (the virus). We know it’s going to affect people around the league, it’s going to affect family members. For me personally, you just have to show up to work every day, and hope for the best because you know what? Tomorrow could be another crappy day for the Tampa Bay Lightning in terms of positive tests, negative tests. It’s out of our control. But there are things that we can control, which is staying safe, staying in, doing the right things, following the protocols.”