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There was an ad that ran years ago for a prominent brand of tea. It featured two prim and proper Brits taking a sip and then remarking on how impressed they were with the cup of tea that they were finding to be so delightful.
Naturally, they asked their server where they might purchase such a quality brand of tea for their own enjoyment. Sadly, they were told that the tea was only sold in Canada. “Only in Canada you say,” was the reaction of one of the English gentlemen. “Pity.”
It’s possible that similar reactions are being uttered in the NHL offices as the league watches the 2021 regular season play out. Attempting to complete a season in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a solid play for Canadians would’ve been to expect that there would be disruptions to the schedule caused by the novel coronavirus. It’s doubtful that any of the moguls who operate the NHL would’ve anticipated that the league’s seven Canadian clubs would skate away virtually scot free from any lasting impact caused by COVID-19.
Thus far, as the NHL nears the midway point of its regular season, not one Canadian team has been forced to postpone or reschedule a single game.
While teams like the Buffalo Sabres, New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars have endured lengthy interruptions to their campaigns due to COVID-19 outbreaks within their ranks, the impact the virus is causing on the other side of the border is barely registering a blip on the radar.
As of March 9th, every Canadian NHL team has contested no less than 24 games. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers had each played 27 games, while the Ottawa Senators skated in 28 games and the Vancouver Canucks had suited up for a league-leading 29 contests.
By comparison, the defending Stanley Cup finalist Dallas Stars, who suffered a COVID-19 outbreak during the preseason that shut down their training camp and delayed the launch of their season, have played a league-low 21 games.
While Toronto hasn’t missed a single game, just 90 miles to the south, the Sabres saw head coach Ralph Krueger and nine players placed on the NHL’s coronavirus protocol list. The team was forced to reschedule a dozen games.
The question that is intriguing epidemiologists is trying to comprehend why the Canadian teams are proving so much more adept at combating the virus than their American counterparts.
“I think it’s a great natural experiment,” Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician for St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont. told the CBC. “You’re running the same league, with the same rules on both sides of the border, and you’re seeing a completely different result.”
Certainly, realignment has played a role in this outcome. With the Canada-U.S. border closed, the NHL shuffled its divisions, creating the all-Canadian North Division. Teams are only playing games this season against clubs in their own division in order to reduce travel.
Many American teams are also allowing a limited number of fans to attend games this season. In Canada, NHL arenas remain empty of spectators. For the most part, Canadian cities are much more restrictive with COVID-19 policies as far as what people can do and where they can go than their American counterparts.
Dr. Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor in infectious diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, believes it would be a misnomer to lay the blame for the outbreaks among the U.S. clubs entirely at the doorstep of the teams.
Texas, for example, recently opened the state up completely and removed the order to wear masks when out in public.
“My interpretation of what’s happening in Canada is there’s a lot more regulation in terms of what people are allowed to do and restrictions than what we’re experiencing here,” Weatherhead told the CBC.
“As a result, we have more widespread community transmission and what’s happening in the community will be reflected in what’s happening in these teams, if they’re allowed to interact with the community.”
Players on the Canadian teams seem happy that they aren’t being required this season to travel to play games in the USA.
“It’s been a lot easier with the rules and the restrictions we have here in Canada to stay healthy,” Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom told Sportsnet.