NHL quietly enjoying successful playoff bubble | Free Sports Columns

The National Hockey League took its time to start playoffs, and the league has done a marvelous job at two different locations in Canada in keeping players and other personnel protected during the coronavirus pandemic, and it should be recognized.

Considering Texas surprisingly only has one team, the Dallas Stars, people living in Galveston County and Harris County are probably not the biggest hockey fans. I think it’s safe to assume people care more about baseball and the Houston Astros than hockey and the Dallas Stars.

That being said, I love hockey. I grew up in Colorado, and I got to attend many Colorado Avalanche games at the Pepsi Center. I have viewed more in-person National Hockey League games than any other professional sport.

I didn’t grow up in Denver, but my older brother has health issues, which required my family to drive to Denver to go to his doctor appointments. More often than not growing up, we went to Denver during the same time as my birthday — along with other times during the year.

Hockey is a wonderful sport with powerful shots and huge fights. Of course, speed is crucial along with a reliable goalie who can make save after save every night. The atmosphere at the arena is incredible, as well, with the cold air, the icy rink and the soda ready to be gulped down during the game. Like any sport, fans can make a huge difference.

This leads me to wanting to congratulate everyone involved in the process on a splendid job. Unlike the NBA or MLS, the NHL needed two bubble zones. The zones are located in Edmonton and Toronto. The Western Conference teams are staying in Edmonton, and the Eastern Conference teams are staying in Toronto.

The NHL announced the league had its fourth straight week of zero positive COVID-19 tests on Aug. 24. The league said 4,664 tests were conducted between Aug. 16 and Aug. 22 between the two cities. It has been more than a month since the NHL reported a positive COVID-19 test, and those two positive tests came before the league sent everyone to the hub cities.

This just goes to show how committed everyone is to playing hockey safely. No one has broken protocol by going outside the bubble when not approved beforehand. While at times the repetition of available activities might not be the most thrilling, it does at least keep the players occupied.

The NHL is no social distancing sport either. If it weren’t for the coronavirus pandemic, I suspect we would see more one-on-one fights. On the other hand, NHL fans have seen plenty of scrub fights between teams. Luckily, none of that has caused anyone to come down with the coronavirus.

The NHL deserves to be praised for its efforts.

Who knows, maybe for next season teams will get to play at home and on the road instead of at two locations only. Maybe some fans will be allowed into hockey arenas.

What I do know is the NHL took its time, worked with players and owners, found two solid locations and has made sure to keep everyone safe and healthy throughout this entire process. The NHL has found a blueprint, and other sports would be smart to follow it.

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