Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) celebrates during first period NHL Stanley Cup Eastern Conference playoff hockey action against the Tampa Bay Lightning, in Toronto, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Bubble fatigue cited as mental challenge during NHL playoffs

The NHL scheduled the second round of the playoffs to open before the first round was complete

The hotels might be posh, their amenities and service first rate, and yet life inside the NHL’s two playoff bubbles isn’t exactly glamorous.

Having spent nearly a month cooped up at the tunnel-connected hotel-arena complex in Edmonton, Alberta, Rick Bowness acknowledged there’s times he’s had to coax himself to step outside to bask in the sun and breathe in some fresh, nonfiltered air.

“If people think living in a bubble is great, it’s tough. It’s mentally tough. And everyone’s making the best of it,” the Stars interim coach said after Dallas advanced to the second round with Game 6 victory over Calgary last week.

“It’s not your typical playoffs. It’s not, where, OK, you play, you jump in your car and you go home or whatever. It’s none of that. It’s play, go back to your room,” Bowness said, beginning to laugh. “This isn’t as easy as you think it is.”

Bowness emphasized he wasn’t complaining, but simply noting the challenges that come with the NHL’s most unusual playoffs, which haven’t yet reached the halfway mark in a bid to award the Stanley Cup by early October — or sooner.

“Listen,” he said. “Until you live in this, you have no idea what we’re doing, what we’re going through.”

The potential for NHL bubble fatigue is real.

The close confines, daily COVID-19 testing, lack of freedom to venture beyond the security fences surrounding hotels and arenas in Edmonton and Toronto, and the separation from loved ones can weigh heavily on everyone. Teams have access to outdoor stadiums in both cities, and the NHL has arranged golf outings on off days, in which players are bused to and from the facilities with no access to those outside the bubble.

“It’s hard when you’re in that type of environment because it’s almost like you’re in prison,” Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said after Chicago was eliminated by Colorado in five games in the first round.

“When the pandemic hit, you could still leave your house, you could walk outside and get some fresh air,” Bowman added. “But here, I think it’s the mental toll that you’re kind of trapped. You can’t go anywhere. And over time, it does start to get to you.”

Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet noted the bubble-related challenges during his team’s three-week stay, which ended with back-to-back 7-1 losses to Colorado.

“It’s basically monotonous every day. We had 2 1/2 blocks with nothing to really do other than hockey. This is where mental will comes in,” Tocchet said. “The teams that go far, obviously you got to have the talent. But you also have to have the strong mental fortitude to get through that for sure.”

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly wrote in an email to The Associated Press that the league is “actively trying to minimize the length” of the playoffs “in part due to the dynamics and constraints of ‘bubble life.’”

That was evident Friday, when the NHL scheduled the second round of the playoffs to open before the first round was complete. And with the conference and Cup finals set for Edmonton, the two East finalists will likely have only two days to acclimate to their new surroundings upon travelling from Toronto.

“We will continue to pursue all ‘move up’ opportunities aggressively as we go forward,” Daly wrote.

READ MORE: Golden Knights crush Canucks 5-0 to take Game 1 of NHL playoff series

He added the NHL is still checking with health authorities on whether family members will be allowed to enter the bubble before or during the conference finals.

In noting the bubble challenges, Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand said players can also use them as motivation.

“We’re all sacrificing to be here, so I think the drive is there to want to make it all worth it,” Marchand said.

“So when you get on the ice, you want to win, because otherwise this whole thing is for nothing,” he said. “It’ll be worth it if we win. So it’s that fear of losing, I guess, that kind of drains you mentally, and being away from the family.”

Teams arrived at their hub cities on July 26, before playing an exhibition game, followed by a two-part preliminary round. The bottom 16 teams competed in a best-of-five elimination series, while each conference’s top four teams played a round-robin tournament to determine seeding.

The first round began on Aug 11 and lasted just 11 days.

There were no series sweeps in the first round for just the fourth time since the 2005 lockout, with no series going the maximum seven games — the first time that’s happened in the first round since 2001.

Overall, a combined 43 games were played, which matched the second-lowest total since 41 games were needed to complete the first round in 2000.

Though it’s unclear what those numbers reflect, Bowness said the notable momentum swings within a series or even a game were “absolutely” the result of life in the bubble.

Columbus and Toronto each rallied from three-goal deficits during their preliminary round series. Dallas did the same in a series-deciding 7-3 win over the Flames.

“The way we’re living and playing, that’s going to lead to a lot of emotional swings,” Bowness said. “Give our guys credit, they battled back.”

In a bid to break the monotony, Bowness scheduled a mandatory fun day for the Stars at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium on Friday.

“We need to get out of the hotel. We need a mental break,” he said.

The players repaid Bowness with a 5-3 series-opening win over Colorado a day later. The only drawback was Bowness and his staff couldn’t join them because they had to spend Friday at the hotel prepping for the Avalanche.

“It would’ve been a good day for us to get out with them, but hey, that didn’t happen,” Bowness said. “And we knew when we came into this bubble, you roll with the punches.”

___

John Wawrow, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Dupras family has been regulars at the Babine River and have seen plentiful grizzlies over the years. (Jay Dupras photo/Lakes District News)
A family’s close encounter with a grizzly on Babine River bridge

Photo-enthusiasts let the bear access the bridge for photos putting others at risk

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

(Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Gidimt'en Territory Facebook screenshot)
Ceremony a right at proposed CGL pipeline drill site: BC Union of Indian Chiefs

Indigenous land defenders cannot be criminalized and targeted, argues UBCIC

(File graphic)
Man dies in Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh) after being taken into police custody

IIO and BC Corners Service conducting independent investigations

Dan Stuart (Christian Heritage Party - BC photo)
Strong values underpin Christian Heritage Party candidate

He’s also suspicious of the COVID-19 pandemic

FILE – People wait in line at a COVID-19 testing facility in Burnaby, B.C., on Thursday, August 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
167 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death recorded as B.C. enters 2nd wave

Three new healthcare outbreaks also announced

This 2020 electron microscope image made available by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases shows a Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 particle isolated from a patient, in a laboratory in Fort Detrick, Md. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-NIAID/NIH via AP
At least 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to wedding in Calgary: Alberta Health

McMillan says the city of Calgary has recently seen several outbreaks linked to social gatherings

UBC geoscientists discovered the wreckage of a decades-old crash during an expedition on a mountain near Harrison Lake. (Submitted photo)
Wreckage of possibly decades-old airplane crash discovered on mountain near Harrison Lake

A team of UBC geoscientists discovered the twisted metal embedded in a glacier

The official search to locate Jordan Naterer was suspended Saturday Oct. 17. Photo courtesy of VPD.
‘I am not leaving without my son,’ says mother of missing Manning Park hiker

Family and friends continue to search for Jordan Naterer, after official efforts suspended

A bear similar to this black bear is believed responsible for killing a llama in Saanich on Oct. 19. (Black Press Media file photo)
Bear kills llama on Vancouver Island, prompting concerns over livestock

Officers could not track the bear they feel may not fear humans

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Bernard Trest and his son Max, 10, are concerned about B.C.’s plan for students in the classroom. He was one of two fathers who filed a court application in August to prevent schools from reopening if stricter COVID-19 protections weren’t in place. That application was dismissed last week. (Contributed photo)
B.C. dad pledges to appeal quashed call for mandatory masks, distancing in schools

Bernard Trest and Gary Shuster challenged health, education ministries’ return-to-school plan

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
RCMP cleared in fatal shooting of armed Lytton man in distress, police watchdog finds

IIO spoke to seven civillian witnesses and 11 police officers in coming to its decision

A 34-year-old man was treated for a gunshot wound in Williams Lake Monday, Oct 19, 2020. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake man treated for gunshot wound after accidental shooting: RCMP

Police are reminding residents to ensure firearms are not loaded when handling them

Most Read