What’s daily life like in the NHL’s playoff bubble? Two Blackhawks describe their experiences so far
From wearing masks to playing golf simulators to struggling with air conditioning, Drake Caggiula and Collin Delia have already seen it all within the Edmonton bubble.
Like many NHL players, Blackhawks wing Drake Caggiula is pretty confident in his golf skills.
But the golf simulator in the Hawks’ team lounge inside Rogers Place in Edmonton had a different idea.
‘‘Let’s just be honest: My golf game was pretty good up until you got to the green, and then putting in the simulator is bizarre,’’ Caggiula said, laughing. ‘‘I think I took a seven-putt on one of the holes.”
Imperfect putting dynamics aside, the simulator reportedly has been a hit among the Hawks holed up in Edmonton. Then again, it’s not facing a lot of competition for the players’ time.
While inside the bubble — and Monday marked the Hawks’ eighth day there — the 52 players, coaches and other personnel in each team’s party are confined to their designated hotel, the arena, the practice facilities and the fenced-off walkways in between. They’ll live every day inside the NHL’s return-to-play bubble until their playoff run ends.
It’s a far cry from the luxurious treatment NHL players usually enjoy on road trips. But it’s also a secure setting designed to prevent a disastrous COVID-19 outbreak.
Caggiula and goalie Collin Delia described what the Hawks’ daily life inside the bubble is like shortly before beginning their series against the Oilers.
Rogers Place has a ritzy J.W. Marriott connected to it, but the NHL only could fit the top six seeds there. The rest, including the Hawks, are at the Sutton Place Hotel a few blocks away.
‘‘It’s definitely different when you walk to the rink and the J.W. Marriott is right there...and you’re like, ‘Aw, man,’ ’’ Delia said. ‘‘They may have gotten a little bit better shake there.’’
The Hawks have had a few minor inconveniences at the Sutton Place Hotel. For one thing, the air conditioning hasn’t worked properly.
‘‘They’re trying to fix it, but it’s a little bit hot in here,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘A couple of guys are sweating pretty bad.’’
‘‘It’s so funny, actually,’’ Delia said. ‘‘[Defenseman Duncan Keith] bought a couple of little AC units on Amazon, and one of the concierge ladies came in and gave it to him when he was eating his meal. He was asking guys if they needed one. He bought a few.’’
The Wifi, as one would expect, has struggled to keep up with the hundreds of NHL players trying to connect at once.
‘‘There’s at least 10 of us that brought an Xbox or PlayStation, and we’ve all been playing a lot of Call of Duty together,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘You’ve got six teams all doing the same thing. Sometimes it gets pretty tough to play on the internet when there’s that many people on it.’’
The hiccups seemed more like sources of amusement than complaints, though.
‘‘At the end of the day, a hotel room is a hotel room,’’ Delia said. ‘‘Plus or minus a few amenities here or there, it still isn’t your own home. It’s really not a huge focal point.’’
Every team has designated lounge areas in their hotel and at the arena, with the arena lounge the more plush of the two.
‘‘We have the Ping-Pong table, there’s a golf simulator just outside of it, there’s a bunch of couches and TVs, video games,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘It’s fun to get some two-on-two Ping Pong or get four or five guys playing on the simulator.”
‘‘I joked around with some of the guys: ‘It’d be fun if there was a wine-and-paint night or a pottery-throwing class,’ ’’ Delia said.
Caggiula, who lived in Edmonton for two years, misses patronizing his favorite restaurants in the city. But the Hawks’ catered food options are otherwise the same as usual.
‘‘Fish, chicken, steaks, pasta, potatoes, all sorts of different veggies, salad,’’ he said. ‘‘The only difference is, we’re not allowed to grab the food ourselves. We have to have somebody grab the food for us from behind a little plexiglass-type thing.’’
The NHL partnered with CLEAR, the same software often used in airport security lines, to screen players when they arrive at the arena each day.
‘‘[You answer] a quick series of questions, maybe eight to 10, that ask you how you’re feeling, if you have any symptoms or anything like that,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘You show that to a little machine in the lobby or at the rink. It scans your face, and then it scans your forehead and takes your temperature. It gives you a green light or a red light.”
Once inside, the Hawks’ game-day routines are largely normal.
‘‘The only thing that was a little bit different was when we were playing soccer and warming up before the game, we had to wear a mask,” Caggiula said. “That got you out of breath pretty quickly.’’
The actual game experience is obviously the most strange part of the bubble, with all 18,500 seats in Rogers Place tarped over or left empty.
The Hawks have talked extensively about the impact of no crowd noise. Without it, everyone on the ice — both teams and the referees — easily can hear every quip said around the rink. The inevitability of curse words prompted the NHL to put its TV feeds on five-second delay.
‘‘They might need a little bit longer than five seconds,’’ Caggiula joked. ‘‘It does get heated out there. I catch myself saying stuff... It’ll be interesting to see what happens with that.’’
Once back in their respective hotel rooms, Caggiula and Delia rely on the entertainment options they packed in their suitcases.
Caggiula is reading a book about Tiger Woods. Delia is watching educational videos on Masterclass, a website where professionals give tutorials on their fields. His favorite subjects include cooking, gardening, interior design, even poker.
All the while, they’re trying to stay in touch with their families — Delia’s girlfriend gave birth to son Anderson in June, and Caggiula’s fiancee is pregnant with their first child — and fight off boredom.
‘‘I don’t want to miss a second with my son,’’ Delia said. ‘‘Just in the short time I’ve been gone, it’s like, ‘My God, he’s getting bigger.’ He has more facial expressions, and he’s starting to smile. It’s tough to miss out on that, but thankfully you do have FaceTime.’’
‘‘I have a little bit of ADHD,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘I’ve got to find something to do all the time, or else I get bored really quickly. But you’ve got to find ways to create your own fun.’’
The Hawks hope to create a culture where that fun happens as a group.
‘‘It’s going to really come down to who can be a close-knit team,’’ Caggiula said. ‘‘If we can find some time to really spend with our teammates and get to know each other even more and have a blast with each other off the ice, that’s going to translate on the ice, as well.’’