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NHL, MLS players, coaches understand why locker-room rule has been issued

March 10, 2020 - 2:16 PM

Morgan Rielly is simply following instructions.

The Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman is not about to argue with a decision by four North American professional leagues to keep reporters and others out of locker rooms.

"It's not our call," Rielly said Tuesday in a press-conference room after the Leafs' morning skate at Scotiabank Arena. "We didn't go to (the team) and ask for it. That's what we were told, and that's what (the team has) been told. It's really not up to us, so it makes no difference to me. I just do what I'm told to prevent any kind of situation."

The NBA, NHL, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer jointly announced Monday they are closing access to locker rooms and clubhouses to all non-essential personnel, including media, in response to the coronavirus crisis.

While it is unusual to see four North American leagues make a united decision, other sporting events have gone further in taking coronavirus precautions.

The top hockey leagues in Germany and Austria announced this week they are ending their seasons, while other events overseas have been played without fans. This could happen with the San Jose Sharks when they return from a road trip next week as the county where their arena is located has banned large gatherings. Ohio also recommended no spectators for indoor sports events Tuesday, which could affect the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I know, just talking about the DEL (the top German league), the fans are really passionate. They're big supporters of their league," said Calgary Flames head coach Geoff Ward, who won the coach of the year award and the German league championship with Adler Mannheim in 2014-15.

"You never want to see something like that happen. Players want to play to full buildings and play and obviously fans want to get out at this time of year. There's a lot of strong hockey cities in that league."

Flames goaltender David Rittich, a native of the Czech Republic, said he appreciates the work his team and league have done, especially when he sees what's happening in his homeland and other European countries.

"It's kind of more than here, obviously. I just read an article today . . . they closed, no they didn't close it fully, but at the hockey game you can just get 100 people at the rink, which included players, trainers and everyone," he said. "It's kind of a bigger deal there than here.

"Schools in Czech had a break and everyone went to Italy, which wasn't very smart, but it is what it is."

On the North American front, many NHL players seem content to follow advice from their teams and league.

"I listen to the right people — the (Centers for Disease Control) — and the right reports," Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk said before his team faced the Leafs on Tuesday night.

"Wash your hands and treat it just as you would if you're worried about catching a cold or flu or whatever it might be. For the most part we're all on that train and trying to be as careful about it as possible, but not freaking out about it too much."

Added Flames captain Mark Giordano: "We have to do what the league tells us to do and our organization thinks is best. Being safe and having these precautionary measures is a good thing for sure."

Shattenkirk supported the move by the four leagues.

"It's a necessary evil, but the leagues are doing the right thing to protect everyone," he said. "We know in our (locker) rooms, as well, that you just want to try to limit the contact as much as possible just to be safe."

Dr. Susy Hota, the medical director of infection prevention and control at University Health Network, said the locker-room decision could be helpful.

"It depends on how they interact within the locker room," she said. "They can be fairly social places, and they are close quarters. I think there potentially could be a little bit more risk if you're spending time in close quarters like that. The big thing is not sharing towels and personal care products.

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney said he understands why there have been some concerns raised by media about the locker-room rule.

"I get it. I think the media, for us, is obviously important and making sure that we have this ability to communicate back and forth is important," he said. "But I understand that the idea of trying to limit some of the interaction. They've even asked us our guys not to hold the hands of the kids that they're walking out with (prior to kickoff). But all of our guys had gloves on (because of the weather), I guess they were fine with it.

Vanney said Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — which owns TFC, the Maple Leafs, the NBA's Toronto Raptors and other sporting and commercial properties — is working with all the leagues and passing information down to the teams.

"It's tough because our league I think is one of those that is very connected to the fans and to people and the media. I know it's challenging for the guys even," Vanney said. "I saw them high-fiving fans after the game. It's going to be hard to remember that and actually create that barrier and I know they're not comfortable with it. But I think we all understand the point of it."

In other Canadian coronavirus sports developments Tuesday, the CFL said its combine remains on schedule for now. International players are scheduled to attend the event in Toronto March 27-28.

Also, the Western Hockey League advised clubs to eliminate handshakes and sharing of water bottles and towels as well as avoiding direct contact with fans.

— With files from Joshua Clipperton, Neil Davidson, Adina Bresge and Dan Ralph in Toronto and Donna Spencer in Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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