Media will return to the NHL dressing room for the first time since March 2020

Trevor Zegras doesn’t know how else things could have been done.

Smooth, camera-friendly center with a toolbox full of tricks on ice made NHL debuts for the Anaheim Ducks in February 2021 as the NHL navigates life with COVID-19.

That shortened season saw all interviews and communications conducted via video conference calls – part of a long list of protocols aimed at containing viruses and healthy players.

The NHL has mostly switched to press conferences for the 2021-22 campaign, but locker rooms that were open to reporters before the pandemic hit in March 2020 remain closed.

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Now, as the league embarks on what is hoped will be an uninterrupted regular season, reporters and operators of television cameras, recorders and notebooks are expected to back to waiting for player booths at the end of practice sessions and games.

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The way it has been – and the format is moving forward – is news for Zegras.

“I didn’t even know it was a thing, if I’m being completely honest,” the 21-year-old said with a smile. “I just think you go into the other (press room).

“That would be a nice wrinkle.”

Several stars of the game shared their thoughts on the locker room reopening with reporters at last week’s NHL/NHLPA player media tour just outside Las Vegas.

Some are excited about the change back to the old rules.

“It’s great,” says Mark Scheifele of the Winnipeg Jets center. “I’m a bloody guy.”

“You look back to the past in the NHL,” added New York Islanders counterpart Mathew Barzal. “Boys are interviewing exercise bikes, there’s a crowd in the locker room at their stall.

“Just seems very personal and has a little more insight.”

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Others, meanwhile, were less enamored.

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

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Dallas Stars goalkeeper Jake Oettinger joked: “I wouldn’t be able to walk around the room that much, who like Zegras never had experience as a reporter at his stall.

“You guys might get hit by some ice balls.”

Tournament rules state that the dressing room must be open to media members five minutes after the first player leaves the field at the end of practice. There is a similar immediacy after the games.

“There’s nothing in our (COVID-19) protocol (banning) media from the locker room,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of the upcoming season. “We anticipate going back to our pre-pandemic rules.”

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

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Maple Leafs AD carry Auston Matthews, the first player to hit 60 goals in a decade last season, was frustrated by what is usually a crowded Toronto dressing room.

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“Loved it when I was taking off my skates,” he said, “and the cameramen were struggling to locate.

“It’s the best.”

Chicago Blackhawks winger Max Domi, who spent two seasons with the Montreal Canada team in an equally fierce media market, is eager to get reporters back.

“It was so much better,” he said. “I’m sure, no offense, a lot of (players) probably wouldn’t agree with that. If you’re going to have an interview, you can also meet someone in person. You have another connection.

“You get very friendly because you’re in your room after practice and games every day.”

He added that conversations on the sidelines and away from the spotlight are where journalists can get their most gripping material.

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“It’s the best time to talk to a hockey player,” he said. “Without a camera.”

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But like Matthews, Domi had some problems.

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

“I was like, ‘Are you going to move, man?'”

Ottawa Senators captain Brady Tkachuk said there will be an adjustment period after more than 30 months of separation between players and reporters.

“As soon as you get off the ice, there will be people around your stall,” he said. “It would be different, but it would be nice to get those relationships back.

“Sometimes you miss out on your relationships, but when things don’t go well, you’re glad it wasn’t on your side.”

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Calgary Flames winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who was acquired from the Panthers in a Matthew Tkachuk deal this summer, arrives in a Canadian market just in time to open his dressing room after a decade in Florida.

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

Leafs defender Morgan Rielly said having reporters up close was an opportunity to express views on the sport’s most important topics in the back-and-forth.

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

“Being in Toronto is great… if you are a game savvy, you get the chance to give your opinion on everything,” he said. “It’s a good sign that things are coming back. I hate the cliché of ‘back to normal’ and all this other stuff.

“But it is true.”

© 2022 Canadian Press

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