DENVER - The basement wasn’t just for gift-wrapping this year in the house of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews, who entered the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol in mid-December.
“I quarantined in the basement a little bit, just because at home we have a 5-month-old,” Toews said. “Just trying to keep him safe and healthy.
“Besides that I was pretty much fine. Just very, very mild symptoms. Able to work out every day and get outside and walk.”
Toews was with the Avalanche as they took to the ice for the first time since pausing Dec. 17. Five games have been postponed, including one scheduled for Monday in Vegas.
After returning from a game in Nashville on Dec. 16, the Avalanche turned in more positive tests.
“For the first three days of the break, they just kept coming and coming,” coach Jared Bednar said. “We wouldn’t have had enough NHL players ready to play games.”
The team announced 11 players had tested positive for COVID-19 since Dec. 16. Forwards Mikko Ratanen, Nazem Kadri, and Logan O’Connor, defenseman Kurtis MacDermid and backup goaltender Pavel Francouz are still in protocol and did not practice Sunday.
All other available players were accounted for at Sunday’s practice. It looked more like an optional skate with three full lines and one goaltender in Darcy Kuemper. Bednar said the Avalanche tried to call in an emergency practice goaltender, but he too tested positive.
“I'm not a doctor, but I’m thinking that there’s a lot of people that probably have it that don’t know they have it because they’re vaxxed,” Bednar said.
There was some conditioning work after 10 days away.
“It was nice to get out there. Nice to see some familiar faces again. A lot of us haven’t seen each other in a while and we look forward to getting some more guys back here soon,” Toews said.
Should games proceed as scheduled this week, MacDermid's and Kadri’s expected return dates are before Wednesday when the Avalanche are set to host the Dallas Stars. O’Connor’s target date is before Colorado’s next game Friday at the Stars, and Rantanen’s is day-of. Francouz’s expected return date isn’t until Jan. 5. The Avalanche will need to call up a goalie and forwards, according to Bednar.
Multiple outlets reported that the Stars closed practice Sunday after several players and support staff entered COVID-19 protocol.
“I would expect us to be playing at this point. We had a bunch of guys come off the protocol over the last few days, including three today,” Bednar said.
“I’m sure now at this point that the entire league is going through this. In a way, we’re probably a little bit fortunate that we had so many guys at once and were able to pause for a little bit over the break. Hopefully we can come out of the next week or so healthy and get our lineup back together.
“I think we only have a handful of guys that haven’t had it this season."
League COVID-19 protocol states that players and personnel who have a confirmed positive test and are later cleared find “ongoing screening with PCR testing is unnecessary for the next 90 days, as PCR-based testing results may remain positive for a prolonged period of time after resolution of symptoms, with unknown significance.”
Colorado will continue to practice at Ball Arena. Bednar said he thought defenseman Bowen Byram, who watched part of Sunday’s practice from the bench, would practice with the team Monday in a non-contact jersey. Byram has missed more than three weeks. Bednar described Byram’s injury not as a concussion, but as issues related to his head.
“It seems like he’s been doing better over this break. He’s a day-to-day thing,” Bednar said. “If things go well with him then hopefully we can start ramping him up to be able to play too.”
Captain Gabriel Landeskog was a full practice participant. He last played Dec. 10 and was expected to miss about two weeks with a lower-body injury.
“Unfortunately he hasn’t had a lot of practice time, but now with the game tomorrow being rescheduled, he should be really good to go for the 29th,” Bednar said.
Defenseman Ryan Murray played just 11 seconds against the Predators on Nov. 27 before going on long-term injured reserve with a lower-body injury, per CapFriendly. He joined Sunday’s practice in a red non-contact jersey.
“I don’t think he’s a player for us for the 29th just because of the time he’s missed, but he’s feeling better,” Bednar said.
During the pause, the NHL announced it would not participate in the 2022 Winter Olympics. That impacted two players already announced as team members, Landeskog and Rantanen, and several other likely inclusions.
“If the players want to go, I want them to be able to go. My take on it now with everything that’s going on – the season is a priority, even for the players,” Bednar said. “It seems like this is going to go through the league here. Having that window in the season built in to be able to make up our games ... hopefully we can find the dates in that break.
“I think for me, as a coach and I’m sure for management, it’s a relief. With the way things are going and just talking with the players, no one wants to get caught over there having a positive test.
“I’m sure there’s some guys that still wish we were going and everybody wants to represent their country, but at the same time, I think we’ll be moving on and focusing on our season.”