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When unprecedented becomes normal: How hockey has changed in the time of COVID

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Photo credit:Nick Barden
Nick Barden
1 year ago
One year ago today, it all fell apart.
This past week has been about remembering everyone’s last normal week before the pandemic started, which was just over 365 days go. It’s been tough financially, tough on everyone’s mental health, and most of all, incredibly tough if you’ve lost a family member due to the Coronavirus. To say the least, this year has sucked. A lot.
One day after the NBA suspended their season due to COVID-19 last year, the AHL and NHL did the same. It was a difficult decision due to the uncertainty of when everything would go back to normal. Some said weeks, some said months. And after one year, there seems to be a subtle end in sight.
I can remember when it all happened. It was one of those moments where you have memory of where you were and what you were doing. But looking back on it, what do you remember?
For myself, this time last year I denied getting into the app TikTok saying “there’s too many young people on it.” I was 22 at the time. Little did I know that it would be the app that brought the most positivity in my life throughout the past year. It’s been an incredibly tough 365 days for everyone — that I hope we never have to go through again.
One of the hardest parts was the uncertainty, especially for hockey players who live to play the game. For the AHL, there was no playoffs. It went straight from their regular season in 2020, to an extended off-season and then quickly back to the 2021 regular season. We still don’t even know if there’ll be a post-season this year for the American Hockey League.
“I think the hardest thing was just the unknown and not knowing when the start was going to happen.” Said Toronto Marlies head coach, Greg Moore. “We’re planning for everything that we can, but with anything in life, the unknown is a tough space to live in and all we can do is focus on the process and prepare, which we did.”
A majority of sports are still playing without fans in the arena, with some allowing a limited amount. For the players, that’s a part of the game which they miss incredibly. When you walk into an arena right now it’s silent. You can eerily hear voices from the other side of the rink. And even with the crowd noise — which follows you everywhere — it doesn’t bring the true effect of an actual game.
“Personally, at the start, it was really different.” Said Marlies defenceman, Kristians Rubins. “I wouldn’t say it was harder but I think it’s always nice to see somebody cheering for you, especially when there’s goals or blocks and wins.”
Most of the players and coaches I have spoken to have expressed how thankful they are to be playing in this difficult time. But it’s especially hard on them as well because some have to leave their families either to go on a road trip, or to just go to their teams home city. A lot of players have said video games are a source to get their mind off the game of hockey, but Moore finds different ways to use his time.
“Talk with family. Call my parents. You know the relationships in my life, reconnect with friends.” Said Moore on the Marlies eight-game road trip. “I think it’s really important to have a little bit of time away from the game. When you’re on the road like this for an extended period of time there aren’t a lot of great opportunities outside of phone calls and hanging out with staff, and just having more discussion that’s away from our jobs.”
From one year ago to now, it’s a different time. Everything we do now is different. The way we go about our lives is different. Like I said before with TikTok sort of being my saviour, there have been some positives throughout this pandemic.
Whether it’s learning something new, starting a new hobby or increasing your knowledge in something — this past year has provided a lot of time for any of it. And even if you didn’t take part in anything I listed, your life has changed in some way.
“I think it’s kind of a time you lean on your family, lean on your significant other and your friends.” Said Marlies forward, Scott Pooley. “I know I’ve talked to a lot more people that I probably wouldn’t have if COVID hadn’t hit. So I think it’s been a good relationship builder and obviously it’s been hard for people so just reaching out and talking to people it’s been good.”
And for most of us, we want life to go back to normal. Being able to go to a hockey game with fans, go to the movie theatre and not have to stress, going out for dinner with your friends and family — we all want it to end.
When I asked Rich Clune yesterday about what he remembers about where he was one year ago today, he gave the perfect response:
“I don’t even care anymore man. I’m here right now doing an interview with you, life’s good, we’re playing hockey.”

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