Detroit — The NHL sure feels like it’s getting back to normal — that is, pre-pandemic — and nowhere is that more apparent than on the road.
The Red Wings are beginning a stretch of playing seven of eight games on the road, and it’ll feel a lot different than last season.
With the pandemic raging last season, coaches and players were essentially confined to their hotels and going to arenas. Food was delivered, or supplied, at the hotel. To an extent, it was a lonely existence.
This season, you can freely venture outside your room or hotel.
“Away games are going to be interesting compared to last year,” forward Pius Suter said.
It’s back to normal this season, or at least feels like it, though coach Jeff Blashill cautions everyone still needs to be careful.
“It’s back to somewhat normal, but you need to take the necessary precautions and apply it by the local health rules, whatever they are,” Blashill said. “Every city we got into, it will be a little different. I also think from our own own perspective, as we all know, with the vaccine you can still test positive. The severity will be much less, but you can still test positive and the positive tests hurt your ability to participate, so we still need to be smart and vigilant.
“But it’s more normal than it would have been a year ago.”
Forward Tyler Bertuzzi is the lone unvaccinated Red Wing, and will miss three of the road games in Canada — two in Montreal, one in Toronto.
An early-season stretch such as this one can bring a team together, in some cases. But in Blashill’s mind, there’s one item that can surely help bonding.
“If you win,” Blashill said. “There’s bonding through hardship, you can bond through struggle at times, but you definitely bond when you win.
“These are different kind of road trips maybe (from) 20 years ago, in terms of going out for a long time on the West Coast and spend days off. A lot of our trips are quick. We’re into Montreal (Saturday) and play a back-to-back (Sunday) in Chicago, and there’s not a lot of time for a group (to bond). We go into Washington (Wednesday) and come back right away and play Florida, and go right to Toronto (the next day).”
There likely will be larger groups of players hanging out, going to restaurants, because of the growing tightness of this group.
Captain Dylan Larkin talked about how the core of this roster now has been together for several years, and with the addition of other young players, the group is close.
“We have a lot of young players that have now been with the team for a couple years, and kind of coming into leadership roles and a couple young players that just made our team, and we’re a young core,” Larkin said. “That’s how you get close. You spend time with those guys, talk, you hang out, you do everything with them.
“It’s great to see, it’s great to have that feeling.”
Forward Lucas Raymond, 19, and defensemen Mortiz Seider, 20, are two rookies who aren’t playing like it, but also have impressed with their demeanors on and off the ice.
Having played pro hockey in Sweden — and in Seider’s case, also in Grand Rapids in the AHL — they understand the dedication needed for pro hockey.
Raymond, who scored his first NHL goal Tuesday, remarked afterward about the thrill of scoring, but understanding there was another game in two days and you can’t dwell on the accomplishment.
“It’s been really fun, but kind of when you’re in it, you don’t really have time to stop and reflect on it,” Raymond said. “You just keep going and try to make the best out of every day.”
Blashill has been impressed with how the two young players are handling the NHL in the opening days of the season, and their careers.
“They’re not entitled people, but yet they have that confidence, and that’s important,” Blashill said.