It took one day longer than expected, but the Philadelphia Flyers got 14 skaters and two goalies on the ice at their practice facility in Voorhees, N.J. on Tuesday — one week after their Feb. 9 game against the Washington Capitals was postponed due to concerns surrounding Covid-19.
Back To Practice Ahead Of Thursday’s Game
All 16 on the ice today at prax (T= taxi squad): Provorov, Sanheim, Ghost, Hägg, Friedman, Hayes, Patrick, Farabee, Raffl, Bunnaman, Hart Elliott, Andreoff (T), Pouliot (T), Kase (T), Sushko (T).
No current Covid protocol players returned to practice today. No Coots, Myers, JVR
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) February 16, 2021
On Tuesday, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher explained that some players had not yet been cleared to return to the ice. They had not yet completed their required quarantines.
“We’ve been in a league-mandated quarantine for the past seven or eight days,” he said. “However, not every player has the same quarantine start date, depending upon various factors, contacts, etc.
“We have a group of players that were eligible to return to the ice today and we have another, I believe, eight that will be allowed to practice tomorrow.”
That group is expected to include forwards Sean Couturier, James van Riemsdyk and Nicolas Aube-Kubel, as well as defensemen Philippe Myers and Erik Gustafsson.
Seven Still Absent
As of Tuesday afternoon, seven Flyers players remain on the NHL’s Covid Protocol list: defenseman Justin Braun and forwards Claude Giroux, Travis Konecny, Scott Laughton, Oskar Lindblom, Jakub Voracek, and Morgan Frost.
Frost was on injured reserve before the Flyers’ season was paused, dealing with a shoulder issue.
The team’s Covid troubles began on Feb. 7, when Travis Sanheim was scratched for the club’s Sunday matinee against the Washington Capitals, then subsequently added to the Covid list.
After more positive cases were reported, Tuesday’s follow-up in Washington was postponed.
Timeline Of Team Shutdown
“We tested twice on that Tuesday,” Fletcher said. “We tested in the morning and everyone who tested negative was allowed to get on three different buses to travel home. I believe we had about twelve people on each bus. We did the best we could to physically distance, but clearly, once the virus is in your group, the results aren’t always desirable.”
Giroux and Braun were added to the Covid Protocol list that day. Kevin Hayes said Tuesday that they stayed behind in Washington, and he did his best to keep them in a positive frame of mind.
“There’s nothing funny about Covid, obviously,” Hayes said. “I just tried to Facetime [Claude Giroux] and [Justin Braun] when they were stuck in Washington, try to make them laugh a little bit. Everyone that has Covid right now is handling it that way and symptoms aren’t too bad. So hopefully that keeps up.
“It’s tough to keep the mood light when guys aren’t allowed to come to the rink and do their job they’ve been doing for years now. But the group chat’s still firing away.
“Ultimately, we have to do everything in our power to get back on the ice and provide entertainment for our fans and the people watching. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Monitoring Moods And Symptoms
Meanwhile, Vigneault has also been keeping a close eye.
“As an organization, Chuck and I and my assistants, we’ve been keeping in touch to see how the guys are feeling,” he said. “Fortunately, we’ve had some that have had very minimal symptoms and some that have had no symptoms at all. So we’ve been fortunate that way.
“The other guys, we’ve been telling everybody to stay ready. We didn’t know how long this would be. Was it going to be seven days, eight days, a full two weeks? So whatever you can do from your own home, try and stay safe. We didn’t know how exactly this was going to unfold, but now we’re good to go. We need to put 20 healthy skaters on the ice, which is what we’re going to do, and we’ll go from there.”
According to Fletcher, not all players on the Covid Protocol list had tested positive. Some were required to quarantine as close contacts.
Travelling To Tahoe
The last change to the Flyers’ Covid Protocol list came on Feb. 14, when Travis Sanheim’s name was removed and Travis Konecny’s was added. Sanheim skated at the practice facility on Tuesday. Vigneault said he did not expect any other players whose names are currently on the list to be available for Thursday’s return to action. The Flyers are set to host the New York Rangers at 7 p.m. ET at Wells Fargo Center.
At this point, it looks like all systems are go Lake Tahoe. The Flyers are set to take on the Boston Bruins Sunday at 3 p.m. ET for the NHL Outdoors game. But the roster itself is still a work in progress.
“After what we’ve been through the last week, our hope is that we will have a full roster for Thursday and Sunday,” Fletcher said. “I think (NHL deputy commissioner) Bill Daly has described the process as day-to-day. Which is accurate, from our standpoint.
“I believe there were  players on the ice today. We expect eight more to return tomorrow, which would obviously allow us to have a full roster for Thursday. Then over the next week or so, we get a few more players back.
“We’ll do the best we can. We’ll put the best roster out we can. We’re just excited to be back practicing and looking forward to hopefully playing a game on Thursday night.”
Welcoming New Faces
While they wait for their regulars to return, Hayes said the group will do its best to make the taxi squadders and other newcomers feel as comfortable as possible.
“David [Kase] was here last year, so he knows the guys,” Hayes said. [Maksim] Sushko, I just met him.
“It’s tough when you have so many restrictions, you’re not allowed to take them to dinner or whatever. But everyone’s so welcoming.
“I’ve never been on a team, whether it’s Philly, New York or Winnipeg, where new guys show up and you don’t welcome them. Hockey’s a very welcoming sport. We do everything in our power to make sure everyone feels safe and happy and in their best spirits so they can provide their best efforts.”