Blackhawks players, fans unfazed by NHL’s new policies amid coronavirus fears

The NHL is halting locker-room access to media and other personnel, along with other smaller changes and precautions. But the Hawks’ players and fans don’t seem overly concerned.

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Encounters with large crowds are commonplace for NHL players, such as when Dylan Strome walked the red carpet before the Blackhawks’ home opener in October.


Interviews after the Blackhawks’ practice Tuesday were held in an awkward and unusual setting: not in the locker room as usual, but in a formal news-conference setting in a side room at Fifth Third Arena.

The decision was made Monday by the NHL to restrict locker-room access only to players and important team personnel, shifting media access exclusively to distanced settings.

The coronavirus fears sweeping the globe certainly are serious. But to the Hawks, the absurdity of the situation Tuesday prompted more awkward jokes than grave warnings.

Defenseman Connor Murphy said he was “not too worried” about contracting the virus.

“I’m sure it’s just a precautionary thing that the league’s taking,” he said. “As long as we don’t pick our nose too much, we should be good.”

The NHL has instructed players to take precautions, some of which are logical — wash hands, use sanitizer — and some of which are more specific, such as bringing their own markers to sign autographs instead of using fans’ markers.

The league is familiar with contagious diseases, too. The flu spreading through locker rooms is a semi-common occurrence. It happened to the Canadiens in January. A mumps outbreak in NHL circles in 2014 required some additional precautions.

“That was crazy,” Murphy said. “I remember teams were having guys have their own water bottles and just telling us be careful with not sharing towels ... as if that was going to be something to be aware of for showering.”

Dylan Strome, whose scheduled public appearance at a car dealership Tuesday was cancelled by the Hawks, echoed Murphy’s lack of concern. It seemed as though he would’ve been happy to make the appearance, too.

“This whole thing came out a few months ago or so?” Strome asked rhetorically. “We’ve done a lot of things since then. We had [Brent Seabrook’s] bowling event, we had a bunch of other things, we’ve had games, we’ve signed autographs for fans after games, before games, on the road for fans in different cities.

“It is what it is. I’m not going to really change who I am too much. We have some hand sanitizer. There’s not much else we can do. Just go about our daily life.”

Even coach Jeremy Colliton, rarely a jokester, quipped he was simply going to “keep washing his hands” during the hysteria.

As for the length of the washing? “Long enough.”

There was more anxiety about the fate of the season — with just 13 games left and the Hawks’ playoff chances at about 3 percent — than coronavirus. Coincidentally, on Wednesday, the Hawks host the Sharks, who face the possibility of playing their final five home games in an empty arena or at a neutral site because of a county ban on large public gatherings.

The Hawks, meanwhile, have eight home games left, and the organization hasn’t indicated any additional precautionary measures are coming.

Filling the United Center probably won’t be a problem, either. Only 15 percent of participants in a Twitter poll Tuesday said coronavirus fears have affected their likelihood of attending a game in the coming weeks. 

Among those not planning to attend a game, 57 percent cited the Hawks’ poor play as the primary reason, whereas only 11 percent cited coronavirus.

NOTE: The Hawks recalled defenseman Nicolas Beaudin from Rockford. The 2018 first-round pick could join Brandon Hagel in making his NHL debut this week.

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