August 23, 2020

Article at theprovince

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Ed Willes's musings: Life in the NHL bubble is anything but easy

Head coach Rick Bowness of the Dallas Stars looks on during warm-ups prior to Game Two of the Western Conference First Round against the Calgary Flames during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 14, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Head coach Rick Bowness of the Dallas Stars looks on during warm-ups prior to Game Two of the Western Conference First Round against the Calgary Flames during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 14, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images

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In honour of the Vancouver Canucks’ playoff run, here’s something else that’s surprising when it’s good, the Monday morning musings and meditations on the world of sports.

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Old friend Rick Bowness surprised some when he sounded off about bubble life a few days back, but the Dallas Stars head coach also highlighted a crucial aspect of this year’s playoffs.

The fact is life inside the biodome wears on the players and adds an additional layer of stress to an already stress-filled environment.

Yes, those players make big dough and, yes, to the outside world they lead a pampered existence. But there are things in this life you can’t put a price on, and no amount of money can compensate for not seeing your wife, your kids, your extended family and your friends.

Now, it’s hard to assess the bubble’s impact on individual teams but, painting with broad strokes, it looked like a factor with a couple of veteran squads. The Washington Capitals never got untracked in this postseason and it cost head coach Todd Reirden his job . Don’t want to diminish the Canucks’ effort against St. Louis, but the Blues were a veteran team that won a Cup last year and there was something about the way they played Game 6 which suggested their focus was elsewhere.

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You could say the same thing about the Arizona Coyotes and Calgary Flames. We’re not saying those teams quit because they were sick of life inside the bubble. But in each case they were pushed and they had nothing when they had to reach down for something extra.

“This whole bubble thing, it’s about who wants to stay,” said Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet after his team was obliterated 7-1 by Colorado in Game 4. “You can tell who wants to stay and who wants to go home. For this game it looked like we wanted to go home. We’ll see about the next game.”

Yes we will. The ‘Yotes lost that one 7-1 as well.

The Canucks, meanwhile, have 10 players, 11 if you count backup goalie Thatcher Demko, who’ve made their first postseason appearance in these playoffs. In the qualifying round, they beat long odds by coming back to win a best-of-five series after losing the first game to the Minnesota Wild. Against the Blues, they came back from a 3-1 second-period deficit to win the critical Game 5.

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So, is that because they’re a younger team? Is it because a lot of them are single and don’t have families? Is it because life inside the bubble doesn’t have the same impact on the Canucks as it does other teams?

It’s hard to say and, clearly, this series against the Golden Knights will tell a story. But for the players, the grind has just started, and the teams that make the Cup final are looking at six more weeks in their hermetically sealed environment.

The Stanley Cup is supposed to be the toughest trophy to win in all of team sports. You can say that without fear of contradiction this season.

Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights makes a save against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Western Conference first round on Aug. 15 at Rogers Place in Edmonton. Photo by Jeff Vinnick /Getty Images

The whole drama with Vegas goalie Marc-André Fleury, his agent Allan Walsh and the picture which ran in social media of Fleury with a sword in his back comes down to one thing.

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If Walsh posted that picture without consulting Fleury, he should be fired. But the veteran goalie didn’t sound like he was about to part company with his agent on Sunday when he spoke to the media.

“Allan’s been my agent for a long time,” Fleury said. “I think he’s a guy who always cares about his players and does about me.

“I really appreciate his passion for the game. Maybe (the tweet was) a way to defend me in that situation for not playing much. But I’m here to be with my team and have success and that’s all that matters. Because of that, I asked him to take that picture down and he did this morning. That’s it.”

One other thing about Walsh. If I’m ever on death row, I want him defending me.

This morning I want you to think about Harris English. At the Northern Trust he shot rounds of 64, 66, 66 and 69 on Sunday. And he was still 11 shots behind Dustin Johnson.

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Johnson, who was 30-under, had a chance to tie Ernie Els’s PGA record of lowest score to par (31-under), but here was the best measure of his performance.

He shot 60 in Round 2 and was disappointed because he parred the last seven holes.

“It is what it is,” said Johnson.

Yes, it always is.

Winnipeg Jets centre Dale Hawerchuk signs autographs after the Heritage Classic alumni game against the Edmonton Oilers in Winnipeg on Oct. 22, 2016. Hawerchuk passed away last week after a lengthy fight against stomach cancer. Photo by Kevin King /Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun

And finally, if all you knew about Dale Hawerchuk were the numbers on the back of his hockey card, you’d think, “Wow, he must have been a great player.”

And he was all of that. In the early- to mid-’80s, he was likely the second-best centre in the West after the Gretzky fella in Edmonton. He finished his career as well over a point-a-game player in his 16 seasons and he took a starring turn on Team Canada in the final of the 1987 Canada Cup, the greatest hockey series ever played.

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But that wasn’t the full measure of the man. It wasn’t even close. In the wake of his death last week, you just had to read the outpouring of emotion from every corner of the hockey world to understand the impact Hawerchuk made on so many lives. It came from hall-of-famers and journeymen, former teammates and young players he coached in Barrie, including the Canucks’ Tanner Pearson; members of the media; and fans.

Hawerchuk was loved in Winnipeg, not just because he was the first star of the NHL team but because of the way he carried himself. Being a Jet meant something to him and that meant something to Winnipeggers.

He’s gone now, far too young at 57, but what he leaves behind will endure. He played the game the right way on and off the ice. As far as legacies go, that one isn’t too bad.

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