Josh Bailey was among the first groups of players to resume skating yesterday at the New York Islanders’ practice facility after almost three months away.
Bailey was joined along with Matt Martin, Johnny Boychuk, Cal Clutterbuck, and goalie Thomas Greiss, as they took part in the start of Phase 2 of the NHL’s Return to Play Plan. Scott Mayfield, Devon Toews, and Bridgeport Sound Tigers netminder, Christopher Gibson, were all too inside Isles facility, but there was no confirmation as to whether they skated.
Still, in that one instance, it felt as though a sense of normalcy had returned for the first time in a long time.
“It was nice to feel the puck,” Bailey told reporters over a Zoom conference call late yesterday afternoon. “We didn’t go too crazy on Day 1, but nonetheless, it was fun to get out there.”
Bailey’s quote was a nice reminder of how long it’s been since hockey has been at the forefront of players and the fan’s minds.
When the Isles’, and the entire NHL, had to put the season on hold back in early March, the team was struggling to stay in the mix for the postseason. They were on the Western Canada swing of their schedule and were trying to find a win after a 0-3-4 skid. But all that took a backseat to real life when the coronavirus pandemic began to rock the country and the world. What followed was a lot of fear, angst, and uncertainty.
It was a good first step,” said Bailey. “I don’t know if there’s been a hardest part. Just the unknown. Even outside of hockey, the unknown. We can all relate to that. You didn’t know when things could potentially start up.”
Hearing Boychuk and Clutterbuck were out there with Bailey also was a great development.
Boychuk, who took a skate to the face in the Islanders’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens the week prior to the stoppage, was missing from the Islanders’ lineup, and his status to return was up in the air. The latter, Clutterbuck, he to was also trying to re-establish himself before the hiatus. He had returned at the end of February, but it was clear he still wasn’t 100% after suffering a cut to the wrist when Bruins’ forward Patrice Bergeron’s skate caught him back in December.
The last two of the group, Martin and Greiss, might have been the least surprising to be there. Martin had stayed on Long Island through the entire shutdown with wife Sydney, who is expected to give birth in July. Greiss followed Martin’s lead, but he spent most of his quarantine working out and finding new hobbies with his wife, Brittany.
More groups of Islanders are expected to be making their way on the ice again, and soon the coaching staff. Which means it’s full steam ahead to the proposed opening of training camp next month and playoffs.
Things have changed for a lot of people,” Bailey added. “it’s not a typical schedule we’d be used to. Instead of getting ready for a training camp that goes into the beginning of the season, you’re starting off with playoffs. That’s even more motivation to be sure you’re ready to go.”
Bailey is right. Things aren’t the same. But yesterday felt a little different. Normalcy seemed to set back in.
And hopefully, it stays that way moving forward.