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July 28, 2020

As COVID-19 threatens baseball, Flyers are safe in a bubble and ready to play

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90_Giroux_Hayes_bench_FlyersvsKnights_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Claude Giroux (28) and Kevin Hayes (13) on the bench during a Philadelphia Flyers game.

More and more, playing sports in a bubble (as opposed to, well outside of one) is looking like the smart and perhaps only way to safely resume a season.

And as the Phillies and Major League Baseball continue to cling to the hope that the current outbreak involving the Marlins and Phillies will blow over, the National Hockey League, well, has it's s**t together.

"First of all, the bubble’s been tremendous so far," Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher told media members Monday after arriving in Toronto — one of two hubs hosting the NHL's re-start. "We’re in a beautiful hotel and weather’s been great. Everything’s worked like clockwork. It’s been a great experience so far. Amazing that the NHL and the union could put this together in such short notice. It’s only going to get more efficient. It’s already efficient. It’s been tremendous."

"Everything was set up," Flyers head coach Alain Vigneault said. "Everything ran basically quicker and smoother than we anticipated. We anticipated to be a little bit longer. We were prepared for it. To the contrary, people were everywhere, waiting for us, following the guidelines and following the safety measures. We got spoken to when we landed by Health Canada, told us what we could do and not do. We got here at the hotel and had the same thing. Basically we’ve done what people have told us. Got a chance to practice a couple of hours ago. We’re going to play our first game tomorrow. We’re getting a chance to play. It’s run smoothly so far."

For baseball fans hoping for the season to continue, the grim reality of Miami's team consulting one another via group text after positive tests for COVID-19 is why Sunday's infectious game took place. With the world in shambles, MLB is the United States in a nutshell right now.

The NHL, by contrast, has taken things slow and has outsourced the Stanley Cup Playoffs to Canada, a country which has handled coronavirus much better than the U.S. thus far.

"This is different for everyone, not just us in the hockey bubble, but everywhere in society," Vigneault, who is a candidate for the NHL's coach of the year award, said. "It’s all different. It’s all new. We’re trying to do our part. We’re trying to [be] safe, follow the guidelines and play a sport. We’re given an opportunity here because a tremendous amount of people got together and found a way to bring us here in Toronto and some other group in Edmonton so we have a chance to play a sport that we love. I don’t know if that’s strange. I’m not exactly sure what you can call it. At the end of the day, a lot of people have worked together to give us a chance to play."

Being organized, thoughtful and safe are important things, to be sure, but there are downsides to the NHL (and NBA) plan to quarter off the rest of the world. Flyers forward Sean Couturier became a father just days ago, and had to leave his wife and one-week-old for what could be a three month business trip.

"My daughter, Ella, was born July 23rd," Couturier said. "It was an amazing feeling. A great day. Been pretty busy the last few days before coming here. It’s going to be tough. It’s already tough leaving, but it is what it is. You can’t really complain. We’re living in a different world. Some people would like to be in our situation. It is what it is, but definitely going to have a lot of FaceTimes in the next few weeks."

The eyes of not just hockey fans, but of all sports fans and executives are watching closely. 

The NFL's plan for the 2020 season much more closely resembles that of baseball than of hockey and basketball. According to the Associated Press, the 17 positive tests for the Marlins makes 116 total since 'summer training' began. The NBA had 25 upon intake on July 2 and currently have none. The NHL had two positives last week and this week have zero.

The writing is on the wall. And the Flyers seem like they have less on their minds than perhaps other athletes in other sports — which is a good thing. For them, it's a few exhibitions, then a round of "seeding games" followed by the Stanley Cup playoffs. And Philly has a chance to win it all.

"We’re all in the same boat," Flyers goalie Carter Hart said. "It’s going to be different to start. We put ourselves in a good position, so we’re lucky to have those four games here to see what it’s going to be like. As opposed to some teams that get one exhibition game and then have to fight for their lives to get into the post season. I think we put ourselves in a spot to get these four games. It’ll be nice to ease our way back into things."

"Just to add on, I think its a little less pressure right off the bat," Couturier said. "We can, like Hartsy said, not ease our way in but get back to it as quick as possible without the risk of losing and getting kicked out. I think it’s just going to be important to find our game as quick as possible and ramp up our intensity. So we are ready right off the start of the actual playoffs."

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