Players, Coaches React to COVID-19 PandemicApr 2, 2020
By Joe Spurrier/SanDiegoGulls.com
When it comes to hockey, and sports in general, one message has become as important as ever – safety comes first.
As the COVID-19 outbreak forced the sports world into unprecedented times, the San Diego Gulls and Anaheim Ducks organization put the health and safety of everyone associated with their games, including fans, staff, players and working personnel, as their number one priority.
It has been several weeks since the coronavirus became a harsh reality, drastically changing people’s lives. Gulls captain Sam Carrick recalled a back-to-back set at Tucson before the AHL season came to a halt.
“It was when people were really starting to talk about the virus, so obviously we had that in the back of our minds outside of the rink,” explained Carrick. “At the same time, that was a huge game. We knew going into it, it was going to be tough, so we were all excited and ready. It was a fun game and it was great to get the win against a good team like Tucson, but after that game, everything started to fall apart.”
Players and coaches knew big changes were looming after returning to their phones to check the latest news after a pivotal 4-2 win over the Roadrunners Mar. 11. What could have been a special moment for the team instead became the last AHL game before the league announced the suspension of the 2019-20 season one day later.
“I forget who it was, but someone came in the [locker room] and said, ‘They just canceled an NBA game, one of the players has the virus,’” Carrick recalled. “We were like ‘Wow, what does this mean?’ We didn’t really understand what was going on, but at the same time, we were thinking this can’t be good and this is happening way too fast.”
That win against Tucson also marked San Diego’s final contest of a club record long seven-game road trip that spanned 15 days. The following day, when the club was heading back home Mar. 12, the AHL announced the suspension of play until further notice. The team found out the news before the plane touched down in San Diego.
“To be on a long road trip like that, we were all looking forward to getting home to play in front of our fans,” said head coach Kevin Dineen. “Then all of a sudden, reality set in and we all realized there was going to be some major changes, not only within our profession, but within our lives. At that point, there was just so much lack of knowledge – what was going to happen or where we were going to go. At that time, we went from hockey mode to making sure our players were safe.”
On Mar. 16, the AHL announced the suspension of play would not be lifted before May and recommended teams facilitate the return of their players to their primary residences. As news continued to develop in the following days, players began to make their final decisions on what was best for themselves and their families. Some players headed back to their hometowns where their families resided, and others stayed in San Diego.
“Originally, we were going to stay (in San Diego) because we didn’t know how long this was going to last,” said Carrick regarding his decision to head back home to Ontario, Canada. “We were watching the news every day pretty religiously and everything happened so quick. We were thinking we should probably go home before things start happening at the border in Canada. We still have our place in San Diego and our fingers are still crossed that things are going to start happening and we’ll be back. For now, we’re in a good spot and we’re safe.”
Going from the middle of a playoff push to relocating to another state or country for safety can be a dramatic change of pace in one’s life. Dineen gave the team some time to adjust before he connected with each player to make sure everyone was safe, informed and prepared.
“I waited a few extra days to give everybody a chance to get acclimated, but I made a phone call to every single player and had a chat with them to get an idea of what their game plan was and where they were at,” said the first-year Gulls coach. “I just wanted to make sure they knew we are thinking about them and are there for them if they needed anything on this end. That was our number one priority, making sure they knew that they had a support system.”
Kiefer Sherwood, who has split the 2019-20 hockey season between San Diego and the Anaheim Ducks, was with the NHL club when hockey was put on pause. The second-year pro traveled home to Columbus, Ohio to quarantine with his parents and his brother Kole, a forward in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization.
“I’m back at my home, spending time with family,” said Sherwood. “I’m trying to do my best to stay home and stay quarantined, not leaving the house much. When it’s nice out, I try to go outside and maybe get a little workout in or walk around and get some fresh air.
“I think this is a good time, despite the circumstances, to spend time with your family and your close ones, and bond over these weird times,” he added. “You just try to make the most of it. We’ve been doing stuff that we don’t usually have time to do, whether it’s sitting down and watching a movie together or we just started a puzzle that’s been pretty challenging.”
With positive outlooks, players are using this unique period to reconnect with their families and stay in shape, while also keeping themselves in a safe environment.
“We’ve been going on a lot of walks. I’ve been whacking around a few golf balls into the field there and just walking to go grab them,” said Carrick on how he’s been staying busy. “Obviously it’s nice getting to spend a lot of time with my kid, especially in the mornings when he seems to be his happiest. It’s fun hanging out with him and he’s starting to walk now. He actually turns one soon so that’s exciting.
“It’s very different, but I obviously we wish we were playing hockey right now,” added the captain. “We’re focused on having a good stretch down the road and going into playoffs, but obviously there’s bigger and more important things that go on in life outside of hockey. We were aware of it, obviously it’s not ideal, but it’s one of those things where everyone has to come together.”
Players and coaches are continuing to take the necessary steps to ensure the health of themselves and those around them, but hockey remains on their minds. One message among everyone remained clear, despite how long this period lasts and whatever the remainder of the season may look like, the Gulls will be prepared.
“Stay patient, we’re all chomping at the bit here and we can’t wait,” said Sherwood. “Health comes first, so once time passes and everyone gets healthy, and hopefully that’s sooner rather than later, we’re going to come ready to go and make a statement. Hopefully, we can use this as an opportunity to bring everyone closer and improve our energy, our moods and how we go about our daily lives because this is a pretty humbling experience. Once we get back, we’re all going to be closer and ready to go.”
The Gulls send best wishes to those impacted by the virus.