BRIGHTON, Mass. — The prospect of playing big-time pro sports games in front of empty arenas obviously isn’t an attractive one, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility if things get dire enough with coronavirus slowly spreading around the globe.
IIHF International hockey tournaments have already been cancelled due to the worldwide pandemic, and European hockey league teams in Switzerland have played to empty arenas as a result of the massive outbreak over the last few weeks in Northern Italy.
Former Bruins forward Jordan Caron plays for Geneva in Switzerland and had to play in an empty arena over the last few weeks and relayed what it was like recently to Patrice Bergeron, leading to the conversation of what it would be like if something similar happened across the NHL.
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Bergeron understandably wasn’t looking forward to that prospect, but was also aware of the ongoing discussion about it amongst the NHL, NBA, MLS and Major League Baseball if the federal government and medical community deemed it a necessary precaution.
“That’s been tossed around a little bit. I know they did that in Switzerland a little bit. I was talking to Jordan Caron [playing in Geneva] and that would be tough,” said Bergeron. “We often say that [the fans] are the Seventh Player and that’s who we are playing for. We’re playing for ourselves obviously, but it’s also the atmosphere and the energy. They are the ones that create it. That would be a big void. It would be tough. It would be really tough.
“Caron said the last few games it felt like a practice. It was really weird and it was hard. [We’ve] never really done that, so it’s definitely a different-feeling atmosphere and now they’re just waiting.”
There has been casual talk of pushing the NHL schedule back as well instead of the empty arena option, but none of it seems like a good solution for a very unexpected problem.
In general, NHL players aren’t going to be at risk for the serious health consequences that have been associated with the virus given their age and physical condition.
But Bergeron said he’s been paying close attention to the news developments and any recommendations that the players are getting from both the Bruins medical staff and the NHLPA as well. The good news is that hockey players are normally pretty attentive to good hygiene anyway given the flu bugs that seem to rip through NHL dressing rooms on an annual basis during the winter months.
“It’s one of those things where it’s out of your control, so you listen to the advice we’re given and to the doctors. You be careful. A lot of washing your hands and the basics that you know when it’s flu season,” said Bergeron. “There’s a lot of unknown that goes with it. You try to be careful, but you don’t want to panic either. You just want to stay even-keeled with it. We’ll see what happens and how it unfolds going forward.”
Nobody hopes it comes to the NHL playing in empty arenas without fans, media or anybody but the essential employees for the game to be played.
Certainly precautions are already taking place with some teams across the league as a first shot over the bow. NHL teams like the San Jose Sharks, New York Islanders and others are already closing off their dressing rooms to media groups based on a CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommendation, and that could be adopted league-wide in the coming days or weeks.
Emptying the arenas could also be a possibility given how things have played out in other regions of the world, but everybody associated with the NHL hopes it doesn’t get to that point while the total number of U.S. citizens infected keeps rising on a daily basis.