National Hockey League (NHL) players are familiar with wearing masks — hockey masks while they’re on the ice and now, cloth masks when roaming the secure zone, or the “bubble.”
The 2019–2020 season reopened with the Stanley Cup qualifiers starting Saturday, August 1, and playoffs began Tuesday, August 11. The traditional 16-seed playoffs will occur with some twists. Taking place in two Canadian hub cities, all Eastern Conference games will be held in Scotiabank Arena in Toronto while Western Conference games will be at Rogers Place in Edmonton.
Edmonton and Toronto each have a bubble inside which players, coaches and other staff are expected to remain. The NHL administered 7,245 tests between Sunday, August 2, and Saturday, August 8, none of which yielded positive results.
Each team is allowed a maximum of 52 people inside the bubble, including ownership, players, coaches, executives and staff. All 52-person parties are tested daily, and a touchless biometric identification system takes players’ temperatures and tracks other health information. Additionally, strict social distancing and cleaning protocols are followed in the hotels and arenas.
Before the first game of qualifiers — between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks — started, the NHL held a reopening ceremony to recognize some of the ways the world had changed since March. The players huddled in a circle on the ice as the names of front-line health care workers and social justice activists were read out loud, while the NHL’s new hashtag for racial equality — #WeSkateForBlackLives — lit up screens around the arena.
Then, Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, a key member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), made a speech demanding more action against racism in hockey and in the world. He then became the first NHL player to kneel during the American National Anthem, with Blackhawks goaltender Malcolm Subban and Oilers defenseman and alternate captain Darnell Nurse showing solidarity by placing a hand on each of Dumba’s shoulders. Nonetheless, Dumba, a Canadian, was the only one kneeling.
Although it has taken a stance against racism, the NHL is widely criticized for its reluctance to say “Black Lives Matter.” However, due to Dumba’s actions, the creation of the HDA and the decisions of the newest NHL team: Seattle Kraken, things are starting to change.
The NHL’s 32nd team has a page on their official website dedicated to providing resources for taking action, donating and learning about the Black Lives Matter movement. On Friday, August 7, the Seattle Kraken announced Everett Fitzhugh as the team’s announcer, making him the NHL’s first black full-time play-by-play broadcaster.
While the NHL has become an example for other sports in terms of dealing with COVID-19, they have ample room to grow in terms of publicly supporting racial justice and equality. In that department, it might be best for them to turn to other professional leagues for some pointers.
More information on the season and its schedule can be found at the NHL’s website.