The Toronto Maple Leafs, along with 23 other NHL teams are headed to the bubble. On July 26, teams will be in the hub cities and in an effort to keep COVID-19 out, their hotels and facilities will be quarantined zones. No one in and no one out of these protected zones. It means every player, coach, and staff member will be saying good-bye to their family and friends. If successful, it could be months in the bubble, while the eight teams who lose in the play-in series will be out of the zone by the second week of August.
There’s been a lot of praise about the sacrifice these players are making. Every time I mention that to my not-so-sports-inclined family, I get an eye-roll and rightfully so. It’s the same eye-roll Leafs’ coach Sheldon Keefe almost gave when he was asked about the sacrifice he and his players are making. “Sacrifice I would say is a tough word to associate with what we are doing here,” said Keefe. “We’ve got a great opportunity to do what we love to do and be part of the game and compete for the Stanley Cup, be part of the bringing the game back for people.”
Keefe Provides Reality Check
Thank you for the reality check, coach Keefe. Not only does he downplay the situation, but he also adds some real-life common sense to the discussion. “Everybody in all walks of life, all areas of life, has got sacrifices that they are making, and there are far greater sacrifices happening all around the world then what we are doing.”
There are plenty of careers that take people away from their families for extended periods. Soldiers can be deployed for months, or even more than a year. They are not only far less paid, but they are also used in potentially dangerous situations.
Spezza Relying on Family Support
Jason Spezza, who will be saying good-bye to his wife and four daughters, echoed his coach’s rebuttal when asked about sacrifice. “Sacrifice is a tough word to use for this, this is a choice, we are choosing to go away and play. There are a lot of people who sacrifice a lot more, and there are a lot of things going on in the world that are more sacrificial then what we are doing.”
“Definitely going to make it hard to go away,” Spezza said the past few months have offered some of the best family time. “They are excited about me going to play too because they know how hard I’ve worked and try to stay in shape and stay ready for this opportunity. I’m chasing my dream, my kids understand that, my wife understands that, I’m lucky they are so supportive.” The veteran said he will use technology to stay connected, “there will be some tough days there. Maybe if you get some downtime, you’ll start thinking about your family a little more, I think as athletes, we have to stay in the moment and know that I have their support.”
While downplaying what players are sacrificing to be part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Keefe says the team recognizes life in the bubble has some challenges. “When it comes to the family and stuff like that, of course, we are sensitive to it and try to do all that we can to help.” But, Keefe is keeping an eye on the big picture. “We’ve got a great opportunity here. We are focused and feel fortunate that we can do what we love to do and be able to entertain people.”
For that, we thank them for their devotion to the game and their service to the fans.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.