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Olympics just one concern for Blackhawks as COVID-19 rips through NHL

Seth Jones hopes he can go to the Games in Beijing, while the Hawks are doing their best to stay clear of the coronavirus.

Seth Jones is slated to make his Olympic debut unless the pandemic intervenes.
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Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones has never played in an Olympics. Picked to play for Team USA in Beijing, Jones hopes to get that chance this winter.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and new rash of positives, however, are prompting discussions about whether players should head to China.

“It’s been a conversation throughout the league the last week or two,” Jones said. “There are so many different variables taking place. I don’t know if they’re rumors or they’re true. No one really knows right now about some of the quarantine stuff we’re hearing.”

Right now, all people are hearing is bad news about the spread of the virus.

On Friday, the NHL announced games for the Avalanche, Flames and Panthers have been postponed through Dec. 26. That means the Hawks’ matchup Tuesday against Florida will need to be rescheduled, a development coming on the heels of the Hawks-Flames game last Monday getting pushed back. The NHL also has introduced stricter safety protocols to try to avoid further issues.

The Predators, whom the Hawks faced Friday night, are playing through an outbreak that has cost them their entire coaching staff and a third of their roster. The Hawks, who suffered through their own COVID-19 issues earlier this season, are OK for now.

“We’re on them about the hygiene stuff and staying away from crowds as much as you can,” Hawks interim coach Derek King said. “I know it’s tough, especially at home with family and stuff like that, and there’s things going on. On the road, we have to be a little more cautious of it. Maybe we don’t go out for those extra dinners or whatever it is you’re doing. Kind of stay in almost our own little bubble, I guess you want to call it that.”

Unfortunately, hockey isn’t conducive to avoiding other people. The Hawks played Friday against a team hit hard by a contagious virus.

“Just the spread of it through the league, it’s so easy for it to happen,’’ Jones said. ‘‘You see it already happening right now with teams playing each other. And the thing is, it may not show up for three days after you play that team. So it’s hard to track, it’s hard to trace where you actually got it or who you got it from. It’s obviously an evolving matter. We’re doing our part. Besides the games, when it comes to those little scrums in front, doing our part away from the game and in the locker room to take care of ourselves.”

At least temporarily, the Hawks have an edge.

With the vast majority of players vaccinated, which teams are getting hit has an element of luck. But if the games are being played and the Hawks are avoiding COVID-19, they can use that to their benefit.

“We had some cases early on in our locker room, but right now we’re pretty healthy as a team,” Jones said. “That’s definitely an advantage when you have everyone playing together. You have that chemistry still on your lines, and you’re not bringing in new guys and trying to fill roles. At the same time, sometimes it brings you together as a team when you have some of your top guys out, and everyone comes in.”

If the tournament is played as scheduled, the Olympics will be full of top players. Jones and likely Alex DeBrincat will debut at that level, while Patrick Kane would appear for the third time.

“It’s obviously not going to be like a normal Olympics with fans and family and being able to watch other sports around the Village,” Jones said. “But we still have our hopes high.”