With his appearance Monday, Lucas Wallmark became the first player in Blackhawks’ history to contract COVID-19 during the season, recover and return to the lineup.
“[I’m] not that used to playing wing, but it was a good game to get into,” he said Tuesday. “The first couple of shifts were a little tough, but the more shifts you have, the more you’re into it. It was fun to be back with the team again.”
And on Wednesday, Adam Boqvist and Ryan Carpenter became the second and third Hawks players to do so, entering the lineup while Wallmark came out.
Just like Boqvist attested last week, Wallmark wasn’t allowed to do much but rest and watch television during his 14-day quarantine. He experienced mild symptoms for about three days, but otherwise “didn’t feel that bad;” the separation from the team was the toughest part.
But watching hockey on TV offers a far different, and sometimes eye-opening, perspective on the game.
At ice level, teammates and opponents overlap in a player’s vision like layers of a painting. From the cameras above, they look like relatively small objects on the expansive ice sheet.
The Hawks, of course, use game video during practice sessions to review good or bad moments, design plays and refine their offensive and defensive systems. It’s not like players never see the overhead perspective.
Watching a game live from that vantage point, though — with running commentary, instant replays and the other broadcast features — is a unique experience for players, no matter how routine it seems for fans on couches across Chicago.
“It’s always a benefit to watch,” coach Jeremy Colliton said recently. “The more you watch, the smarter you get, usually. When you’re immersed in it, you see things from a different level when you watch from TV or [the press box]. One of the comments is you have more time than you think. You also realize little plays, little things help you have a little more success.”
Colliton referenced an especially memorable comment from rookie defenseman Nicolas Beaudin after his brief, contact tracing-related stay on the COVID-19 list forced him to watch the Hawks’ Jan. 31 game on TV.
After an impressive showing in his Feb. 2 return, Beaudin said the TV-watching experience lent him some valuable takeaways.
“You have more time than you think out there,” Beaudin said. “Sometimes you’re rushing plays and afterwards you look at the game and you’re like, ‘OK, you know, I’ve got a second to make a play.’ So for me, it’s not always going to be pretty, it’s not always going to work, but I’m trying to make some plays. When it doesn’t work, I’m just going to work hard to get the puck back and then make a nice play.”
Beaudin has become a surprising mainstay in the Hawks’ lineup since. Wednesday will represent his eighth consecutive appearance, averaging nearly 16 minutes per game.
The lessons he learned during that night off have seemingly contributed to his success.
“His patience and willingness to make a play, take an extra second, makes him more effective,” Colliton said. “As you get used to the league, you understand when you have time. There are other situations when you have no time — that’s an awareness, too, having alarm bells go off. But he’s going to keep getting better.”
Alex DeBrincat has been dynamic, too, since returning from his contact tracing-related week on the COVID-19 list.
Wallmark, albeit in a less constant role, will look to also translate lessons learned during his time away onto the ice. He said the TV-watching experience helped him understand the Hawks’ system better and showed him “what’s open out there.”
“It was good to watch some games and learn from that,” Wallmark added.