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NHL bubbles made players feel ‘like an animal’

NHL bubbles made players feel ‘like an animal’

The NHL’s bubble plan is nearing its conclusion with the Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning playing Game 3 Wednesday night in Edmonton, and players are starting to reveal what it was like behind-the-scenes.

ESPN spoke with several anonymous players on what life was really like inside the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles, where the league conducted a modified playoff format that was expanded to 24 teams in order to wrap up the 2019-20 season. From the tight security, what players were promised versus what they received and how teams entertained themselves during their isolated stay, players were transparent about what the unusual experience was really like.

With some concern over safety protocols coming into the bubbles, amid the coronavirus pandemic that suspended the regular season in March, players asserted that they felt more than safe under the league’s strict safety guidelines.

“For all the guys that were questioning how safe it would be, that quickly went away,” one Western Conference player told ESPN. “It was one of the safest places you could be. They were constantly checking your credentials, constantly checking our Clear App, constant security.”

The testing was just as rigorous as advertised and there were “mask police everywhere’ inside the bubble to ensure that everybody was wearing one and continuing to social distance. Players were very conscientious of sending the right message to fans about wearing your mask out of respect for others.

Another Western Conference player felt slightly claustrophobic when arriving in the Edmonton bubble because of how tight security was.

“The fence that boxed us in, that made you feel like you were in more of a prison, kind of like an animal,” he told ESPN. “Just the feeling of it. There’s no other way to separate you from the outside world in a safe way, but it was an eye-opener when guys pulled up to the hotel.”

Stanley Cup Playoffs 2020 NHL bubble
Fencing provides a barrier between NHL workers and players inside the bubble from those outside just adjacent to Rogers Place during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.Getty Images

In terms of finishing the 2019-20 season and awarding a Stanley Cup in a safe environment, players thought the NHL succeeded. But as far as the accommodations, the league slightly missed the mark.

ESPN reported that several players thought the NHL exaggerated about the comforts and life in the bubble just to ensure that players agreed to come and leave their families for months. In a way, the league sold the bubble to players to what was compared to as a vacation packet you’d get from a resort with pictures and maps of the grounds.

“I would quote it as ‘not as advertised,’” one Western Conference player put it.

“Once you got into the pattern of playing every other day, the amenities were less important,” another Western Conference player said. “But they oversold what was delivered.”

“The things promised and actually delivered [on] are hilarious if you look at it,” said one Eastern Conference veteran, who was a member of the return-to-play/CBA committee. “They gave us a proposal for Toronto, which was this booklet that I circulated among my teammates. I was like, ‘Whoa, this is going to be actually nice.’ They had food trucks, restaurants, shops out in the middle of the street for us to go shopping. When we got there, the guys were like, ‘Where are the shops? Where are the outdoor team lounges?’ Yeah, none of that.”

This caused some tension between teams within the bubbles as some thought that others were getting benefits that weren’t available to all. Teams were jealous of other teams that had access to roof decks or better food spreads.

Toronto, according to ESPN, was the preferred setup, especially those staying at Hotel X, where there were amenities like a rooftop pool and Toronto FC’s BMO Field to play outdoor sports. In Edmonton, that wasn’t quite the case.

“There were times I didn’t go outside for four, five days,” said a Western Conference player who spent weeks in the bubble. “Some teams had meeting rooms with balconies, and those guys could go out there and get some sun. Other teams’ rooms were in the middle of the hotel. So there’s no windows, no light. You’re always in your room.

“And unless you go out to the prison yard — which is in a ‘courtyard,’ but it was an oval concrete slab with a freaking Tim Horton’s truck in it and fencing around it — you don’t get any fresh air at all.”

Players did have access to a concierge service in the lobbies, where they could order beer and wine and have it delivered to the team’s rec rooms. But as the playoffs progressed and things became more series, less and less teams were taking advantage of the liquor services.

One player said nobody was trying to sneak girls in out of fear of ruining the entire playoffs. Players did consume cannabis gummies and drink alcohol, but not much else.

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Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.

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Christine Watkins

Christine founded Sports Grind Entertainment with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered Sports news to the general public with a specific view point for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research.

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