Media ready to return to NHL locker rooms for the first time since March 2020 Pipa News


Media ready to return to NHL locker rooms for the first time since March 2020

Trevor Zegras had no idea it was any different.

The slick, camera-friendly center with a toolbox full of tricks on the ice made its NHL debut for the Anaheim Ducks in February 2021 as the NHL navigated life alongside COVID-19.

That shortened season saw all interviews and media availability via video conference calls — part of a long list of protocols to keep the virus at bay and players healthy.

The NHL largely moved to press conferences for the 2021-2022 campaign, but locker rooms that were open to reporters before the March 2020 pandemic shutdown remained closed.

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As the league kicks off what will hopefully be a regular season without interruption, reporters and television cameras, recorders and notepads are expected to be back at the players’ stalls waiting at the end of practices and matches.

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The way it used to be — and the format that’s advancing — was news to Zegras.

“I didn’t even know that was a thing, if I’m being very honest,” the extroverted 21-year-old said with a smile. “I thought you were going to go into that other one (press conference room).

“That’s going to be a nice wrinkle.”

A number of stars of the game shared their views on the reopening of dressing rooms for reporters during last week’s NHL/NHLPA players media tour just outside Las Vegas.

Some were enthusiastic about the shift to the old rules.

“It’s great,” said Mark Scheifele of Winnipeg Jets. “I’m a big man face to face.”

“You look back into the past in the NHL,” added Mathew Barzal, the New York Islanders counterpart. “Guys doing interviews on the exercise bike, with the crowd in the locker room at their booth.

“It just seems very personal and a bit more of an in-depth look.”

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Others, meanwhile, were less enthusiastic.

“I didn’t mind those press conference rooms,” said Florida Panthers winger Matthew Tkachuk.

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“I won’t be able to hang out in the room that much,” joked Dallas Stars goalkeeper Jake Oettinger, who, like Zegras, has never seen reporters at his booth.

“You might get hit by some tape balls.”

Competition rules state that locker rooms must be opened to media members at the end of practice five minutes after the first player leaves the ice. There is a similar immediacy after games.

“Nothing in our (COVID-19) protocol (prohibits) media from the locker room,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly of the upcoming season. “We expect to go back to what our rules were before the pandemic.”

The NFL and Major League Baseball welcomed reporters back into the locker rooms this year. The NBA’s 2022-23 media policy has yet to be released, but a league spokesperson told The Canadian Press in an email, “It’s safe to say locker rooms will be part of media access again.”

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Maple Leafs sniper Auston Matthews, the first player to score 60 goals in a decade last season, said nothing about what is often a crowded dressing room in Toronto.

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“I love it when I release my skates,” he said, “and the cameramen fight for their position.

“It is the best.”

Chicago Blackhawks winger Max Domi, who spent two seasons with the Montreal Canadiens in an equally intense media market, is eager to have reporters back.

“It’s so much better,” he said. “I’m sure, not offensive, a lot of (players) will probably disagree with that. If you’re going to have an interview, you might as well go face-to-face with someone. You have another connection.

“You become very friendly because you are in the room every day after training and competitions.”

He added the conversations on the side and away from the lights are where journalists probably get their juiciest material.

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“That’s the best time to talk to a hockey player,” he said. “If there are no cameras.”

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But like Matthews, Domi has had some issues.

“Those (camera) guys are furious because they don’t care,” he said with a smile. “They just sit (in front of your locker).

“I’m like, ‘Are you moving, bro?'”

Ottawa Senators Captain Brady Tkachuk said there will be an adjustment period after more than 30 months of player-reporter separation.

“Right after you get off the ice, there will be people around your booth,” he said. “It will be different, but it will be nice to get those relationships back.

“Sometimes you miss your relationships, but when things aren’t going well, you’re glad it’s not in your face.”

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Calgary Flames winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who was taken over from the Panthers in the Matthew Tkachuk trade this summer, arrives at a Canadian market just in time to swing open locker room doors after a decade in Florida.

“I’ve never had that in my life,” he said. “It will be a new experience.”

Leafs defender Morgan Rielly said having reporters is an opportunity to express opinions on the sport’s key topics in a back-and-forth setting.

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It’s also one of the final pieces of the NHL’s post-pandemic puzzle.

“It’s cool in Toronto…if you’re a knowledgeable guy about the game, you get a chance to voice your opinion on things,” he said. “It is a good sign that business is returning. I hate the cliché of “back to normal” and all that other stuff.

“But it’s the truth.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press