Things got real for Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk as soon as the door to his hotel room clasp shut Sunday night.
All the excitement that went along with the NHL restarting its season faded away and reality set in.
The silence inside the Sutton Place Hotel in Edmonton, Alberta, stunned Dubnyk as he drifted off the sleep more than 1,200 miles from home.
“It was certainly strange waking up this morning,” Dubnyk said. “Just realizing we are here and we are really doing it.”
After nearly 150 days away due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL officially resumes its 2019-20 season this weekend.
While that by itself is a relief for so many around the league, whichever team hoists the Stanley Cup at the end of the playoffs will have sacrificed a lot along the way.
As teams arrive in their respective hub cities — the Western Conference in Edmonton, the Eastern Conference in Toronto — every person in each team’s 52-member traveling party will be confined to the NHL bubble for the foreseeable future.
There is an actual fence separating the NHL bubble from the rest of the general public.
What is life like inside? Not much different than a regular road trip, according to Wild defenseman Carson Soucy.
“We get checked into a hotel and we come down and have our meals together,” Soucy said. “Maybe once we’re a few weeks in, it will start to feel a little different.”
It might be harder on older players like Dubnyk. He said goodbye to his family on Sunday and isn’t sure the next time he will get to see them. In fact, the goal is to be away from home as long as possible. That would mean a legit Stanley Cup run.
“That’s tough,” Dubnyk said. “We had a tough day yesterday.”
Luckily for Dubnyk, he has gotten pretty savvy with FaceTime over the course of his career. He also will be plenty busy coming up with an exhibition game against the Colorado Avalanche on the horizon and the qualifying series against the Vancouver Canucks beginning this weekend.
As for the next few days, the Wild will only able to interact physically with members of their traveling party. This will be a common practice with teams across the league to ensure social distancing in the early stages of the NHL bubble. When the weekend rolls around, the Wild will be able to move more freely around the NHL bubble, and thus, able to meet up with players from other teams.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of interaction,” Dubnyk said. “It’s a small area with a lot of guys. There’s some big nice outdoor common areas with restaurants. Even if it’s a little bit tighter right now for the first five days, I think there will definitely be quite a bit of interaction.”
Asked about the setup itself, Dubnyk was extremely complimentary of everything inside the NHL’s bubble.
“I think the setup we’d all agree is a lot better than what we could’ve imagined,” he said. “We were out and about walking around and checking out what there is to offer here. It seems like they have done an extremely good job of making the best effort to have us comfortable. As the hours go on, and the days go on, we’ll kind of get used to what we’re doing here.”
It will definitely take a few days to get used to everything. That’s something coach Dean Evason realized right away.
“There’s going to be some really odd situations,” Evason said. “There already have been. As a coaching staff, we took a walk over to where the testing is over at the main rink, and it’s different. There’s a walkway with fences and people can’t see in and we can’t see out.”
Originally from the area, Soucy said some of his friends in town have been poking around directly the outside the bubble. Even though they might only be a few feet away at any given moment, they might as well be on the other side of the world.
“It’s pretty weird,” Soucy said. “They’re sending me pictures of stuff from outside, and I can’t really go out and see them.”
Such is life for the the Wild moving forward, though players like defenseman Jonas Brodin don’t seem to mind too much. He plans on taking advantage of the fully equipped player lounge area inside the Sutton Place Hotel.
“I don’t do much back home,” he said. “It’s nice to be with the team and (play) ping-pong or video games or whatever.”
Meanwhile, a couple of hours before the Wild practiced on Monday afternoon, Evason sat in front of a backdrop with the Stanley Cup prominently displayed on it. That was motivation enough for him.
“It felt real as soon as we got here,” Evason said. “It is exciting to see the Stanley Cup behind us. Obviously that’s everybody’s ultimate goal. It’s very exciting to be here, and looking forward to our first step with practice here.”