This may be the understatement of the year but there has been nothing normal about the last four months dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. In reality, the normal for the Islanders before the season came to a pause because of COVID-19 wasn’t very good. The Islanders were winless in their last seven games (0-3-4) before the season was suspended to go along with the fact that they were beset by injuries.
Defenseman Adam Pelech suffered a pre-game Achilles tendon injury, reportedly playing soccer outside the dressing room, prior to the January 2nd game against the Devils at Nassau Coliseum.
Forward Casey Cizikas missed what turned out to be the last 13 games of the regular season with leg injury suffered on February 11th against the Flyers at “The Barn”.
And defenseman Johnny Boychuck sustained an eye injury in the March 3rd game against the Canadiens at Barclays Center.
It looked like all three were done for the 2019-20 season but the pandemic changed all of that.
Injuries along with struggles on the ice were part of the normal for the Islanders before the pause but now there is a new normal as the team began training camp on Monday to prepare for a Stanley Cup playoff qualifying round series against the Florida Panthers that will commence on August 1st. While the pandemic is something that we all wish we never had to go through, the layoff has made the Islanders whole heading into the postseason.
Pelech, Cizikas and Boychuck are all healthy and ready to go and help the Islanders make a run at the Stanley Cup.
“I think the way things didn’t go well over the last two months of the season made it extremely tough for me,” said Pelech who had a strong practice on Monday. “I know I’m just glad to be back and I think everyone is pretty excited for the opportunity to be out there.”
Boychuck hit the Al Arbour Rink ice at Northwell Health Ice Center in East Meadow around 11 o’clock Monday morning and skated by himself for a few minutes before he was joined by a handful of fellow defensemen. A short time later, Boychuck participated in practice with the rest of group two, a group that also included Cizikas.
“The leg is doing well,” said Cizikas. “I’ve had a lot of extra time here to make sure that everything is well with it. I had that extra time which helped me a lot to get that strength back and get that power back in it.”
The new normal in Islanders Country also applies to members of the media.
I was one of many reporters who had to have a temperature check and fill out a health questionnaire after entering the building. It was also required of reporters and staff to wear face masks and to practice social distancing while watching practice. The Islanders marked seats that reporters and staff should sit in with an “X” and there was no locker room access. Interviews with Head Coach Barry Trotz and selected players took place via Zoom meetings later in the day.
For the Islanders coaches and players, the day did feature a combination of old normal and new normal.
“Probably everything else like getting to the rink and the protocols and restrictions within the rink are very stringent and they’re not normal,” said Trotz. “But the one thing that was normal was on the ice. It felt like you’re getting a little piece of yourself back. I think that’s what excites the group and probably excites every player and every coach in the league right now.”
Being on the ice in their practice facility certainly had to feel normal for the Islanders, but this was not your typical first day of training camp under Trotz. The first day is traditionally pretty tough, but given the circumstances and the amount of time the Islanders have to prepare on Long Island before departing for the Eastern Conference playoffs in Toronto, this was a walk in the park.
“Thankfully, it wasn’t one of Barry’s opening training camp days,” said Captain Anders Lee. I think we might’ve had a few more training guys in the room if that were the case.”
The road that we are all taking as a result of the pandemic will lead us to a new normal. Part of that new normal will feature some aspects of the old normal. For the Islanders, getting back on the ice in July is not normal, but having their whole team together in time for the playoffs is a new normal that they hope to enjoy once the playoffs begin.
I also know this…it was great to cover a sporting event for the first time in four months and it’s just great for everyone in the sport that hockey is back.