As the first week of the NHL’s Return To Play plan wraps up, it’s clear the steps the Washington Capitals are taking to keep their facility safe during the coronavirus pandemic are working. Friday, I was the first RMNB reporter to attend a practice since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered the rest of the regular season on March 12.
Personally, I was nervous to go. I have been self-isolating since March. Other than grocery store trips, I’ve stayed inside. I’ve only let my family and roommate be in my quarantine bubble.
I’m happy to report the Capitals did everything they could to make media members feel safe. There were big differences in how practices were conducted and how media members could operate than before.
Medstar Capitals Iceplex initially closed to the public at the start of the pandemic in March. When Virginia entered Phase 3, the rink was allowed to re-open but only under a reservation system. The main facility is still closed to public entry and Capitals practices are closed to the public.
Once I arrived at the facility, a Capitals PR team member took my temperature with a touchless forehead thermometer. He was aware it might show a higher temperature since I did just come from outside and it’s boiling hot in the District. With that in mind, he said if it showed as having a fever, he would test it again in a few minutes once I could cool down. My temperature was normal and I went upstairs to the rink balcony where I checked in and was assigned my media spot.
All media members are assigned a table and chair, taped off 6 feet away from the next. A sign placed on the top states that only one person is permitted per table and no furniture should be moved. Everyone in the facility, including me, wore a mask at all times except the players on the ice. The Capitals even had a team-branded hand sanitizer bottle available on each table.
Almost immediately I noticed on the ice that the team had lined up a water bottle, a Gatorade bottle, and a towel for each individual player on the boards. These items are placed within a taped off area to make sure they stay distanced from the other.
Previously, media was allowed in the locker room after practice to interview players, either individually or in scrums. Now, everyone is kept socially distant and has no direct access to the players. Every day after practice, pre-selected players are available via Zoom to virtual scrums.
Before the pandemic, photographers were allowed to shoot practice from between the benches. The space between the benches has no glass, and while my only hurdle before was to try not to get hit in the face by a puck, now I’m shooting through the netting and a piece of plexiglass that was recently added for extra protection. Focusing a camera on a player through two different layers of barriers is difficult, but it’s a challenge worth accepting to keep everyone safe.
Once players are off the ice and not practicing, they must wear a mask while walking around.
In my opinion, the NHL is taking every precaution and step necessary to keep its players, staff, and community safe.
Photos: Cara Bahniuk/RMNB
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