The Pittsburgh Penguins keep adjusting as the NHL keeps tightening restrictions related to COVID-19 safety protocols, but winger Jason Zucker on Saturday divulged a silver lining to the players’ seating being widely spaced for social distancing in the locker room.
“It’s helped me a lot personally just because I’m further away from Rusty,” Zucker deadpanned about fellow winger Bryan Rust. “So I don’t have to deal with him as much on a daily basis. That’s honestly been the best part. He’s miserable to be around in the room.”
It perhaps should be noted that members of the Penguins organization have consistently said they realize the serious nature of the COVID-19 virus and pandemic, but, hey, sometimes it helps to add a pinch of levity at a teammate’s expense.
“I think it’s something we all kind of expected throughout this season with COVID, and the league has to adjust the best they can,” Zucker said after he got the ribbing of Rust out of his system. “I think they’re doing a great job and trying to keep the spread as minimal as possible.”
Among the latest restrictions handed down to all NHL teams was a plea for people in each organization, as well as their families, to limit their activities outside of their homes. Players already were asked to pretty much keep to home, arenas and practice facilities, and to their hotel rooms on the road.
Pittsburgh Penguins COVID List
The Penguins have had one player, defenseman John Marino, on the COVID protocol list, and that was just for a couple days. The games they have had postponed have been because of issues their opponents ran into.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan hinted that that might be because his team already was pretty much following the latest, tighter restrictions.
“It’s just part of this unique circumstance,” Sullivan said. “Quite honestly, we’ve been conducting ourselves this way for a while now. My life has consisted of going to the rink and going home. It’s not like we’re going out to restaurants or anything like that where we’re exposing ourselves to unnecessary risks.
“We’re trying to use common sense and be respectful of the pandemic. It’s not like anything really has changed from our standpoint other than the protocols have been put in place explicitly through the memorandums that have been sent around.”
Zucker offered that he already had been relying on things such as having groceries delivered to curtail his time away from home.
One of the latest mandates states that players can’t arrive at an arena until 1 hour, 45 minutes before game time. Most players normally arrive considerably earlier than that, which cuts into their established pregame routines.
While a player such as Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is so superstitious and tied to his meticulous pregame routine that he at times has been kidded about it, those routines have been honed and adapted as each player finds what works for optimal physical and mental game preparation. (Crosby has not had a chance to publicly discuss the impact he feels with the pregame time restriction.)
“The biggest impact from the players standpoint is the routine because it’s disruptive to the routine,” Sullivan said. “When a player gets up in the morning they’re accustomed to going about their day a certain way whether it’s a game day or a non-game day. This protocol is disruptive to that. But that’s the world that we all live in right now.”
That doesn’t make it easy.
“The longer you play in the league, (the more) you understand what you feel you need to perform your best that night, whether that’s extra time warming up, taping your sticks, mentally, physically – whatever it is, taking that time before the game is why you allot that much time prior to the game,” Zucker said.
“For me personally, I’ve tried to get as much done in the mornings as I can at the morning skates – taping sticks, different things with gear, and just trying to get all that stuff as ready as I can so when I get there (pregame) I can just focus on warming up and getting ready.”
Sullivan and his coaching staff also have had a key element taken away. There are no more face-to-face meetings with players, but rather they are done virtually.
“It’s a big challenge, because a big part of coaching, I think, is the human interaction and building relationships with the guys. The human interaction is a critically important aspect of what we do,” Sullivan said. “But having said that, I also understand … the circumstance we’re in.
“We’re going to utilize all the technology at our disposal. We’re also trying to be creative in how we conduct meetings.”
More restrictions could be passed down, especially if there are more postponements.
“You just kind of have to adapt,” Marino said. “Everyone’s going through it.”
True, but not every team has to put up with Bryan Rust in the locker room during a pandemic.