The 2020-21 NHL season has been anything but normal for Winnipeg Jets defenceman Tucker Poolman. After suiting up in the season-opener against the Calgary Flames on January 14, the 27-year-old blueliner reported to Bell MTS Place for his mandatory COVID-19 testing and underwent the simple procedure.
The rapid testing and some scheduling luck is most likely what saved the club from an outbreak. According to Poolman, the young defender received a phone call just hours later with the news.
“At about 3:00 or 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon I was sitting on the couch at home and got the call that I tested positive,” Poolman reflected. “My fiancé could hear the phone as I was talking and her eyes got kind of wide like, ‘How did that happen?’ I ended up giving it to her about a week later, but we were both pretty surprised when it happened… I was kind of surprised as I was feeling good. I was asymptomatic for about a day and then started developing some symptoms after that.”
The symptoms Poolman experienced were not major, but enough to knock him out for a few days. Fatigue, fever and some aches and pains were the included in the third-year defenceman’s ‘package deal’.
“Everything I experienced was fairly mild from what I read the papers this whole year,” Poolman said of his symptoms. “It just showed up one day. I was super surprised because there were really no red flags or precautionary tales of get ready or make sure you follow the rules. It just kind of popped up, so a little bit scary to think about, from that manner.”
After already coming into Jets camp for an abbreviated training period with no pre-season or exhibition games, Poolman was able to play in one game, before being forced to sit out the following 14 days. Although finally back on the ice, this period of down time was different than any other extended break during his hockey career thus far.
“I mean, it’s just trying to do proper nutrition and rest,” Poolman said of his recovery. “All those little things you normally do I think become a little bit more important. You got to kind of start easing into it. You can’t really go full-boat; it wasn’t like I was biking or anything. It kind of set me back as far as physically getting in there and trying to be your best. The expectations changed from like an ankle sprain or a different type of injury where you can still bike or do some kind of lifting. It was just kind of starting on the bottom floor, if that makes any sense.”
Luckily for the Jets organization, the day that Poolman tested positive for the virus was a scheduled off-day, meaning players only reported to the facility for their daily test before leaving the premises and enjoying a day to themselves. Undoubtedly, this prevented mass spread throughout the dressing room, allowing the team to continue with its season, unlike that of the many clubs that have been forced to shut down upon numerous positive tests.
“I’m guessing the test would have caught me pretty early, maybe before I started really shedding a lot of the virus,” Poolman reflected. “The next day was an off day so I came in for a test, and so that limited some contacts. So maybe a bit of luck there. But, I mean, we’ve been trying to follow protocols as best we can. Wear the mask, stay distant. It’s frustrating that I got it because I was trying to follow the protocols. But it’s a little bit of luck and just trying to follow protocols. That was basically it.”
Now back to his teammates, Poolman has served as a full participant at the past couple of practices, skating with the team in a red defender sweater. Through this process, he has learned not to take his life as a professional hockey player for granted.
“I’ve gone through a lot of emotions over the last few weeks between myself getting it and then Jess getting it at home,” Poolman said. “Like everyone, this whole year, a lot of curveballs have been thrown at you. You know, it is what it is. I’m glad to be back with the team and I’m glad no one else got it. That was a big plus for me. I was waiting around for a week just nervous sitting at home. It was great no one else got it.”
Although not officially paired back up with a partner yet or expected to draw back into the lineup for the Jets’ road contest against Calgary on Tuesday, the 27-year-old is very happy to be back.
“I’m feeling good now,” he laughed. “It’s been a process. It was 14 days of no activity really and staying at home. Came back and it feels like another training camp almost. Every day feels better on the ice cardio-wise and the hands. It’s just a process when you sit out that long sometimes. Every day feels better. I’m not sure of a timeline for getting back in there. It’s just about getting back and feeling healthy right now.”