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Phase 2: What it means for the Flyers

by Bill Meltzer @BillMeltzer /

On Memorial Day, the National Hockey League released a 22-page memorandum covering policies, procedures and protocols for Phase 2 of the return-to-play plan during the global Covid-19 pandemic. It has not yet been formally decided when the transition will begin from NHL players being in self-quarantine at their place of primary residence (Phase 1). Early June is the generic target range to move from Phase 1 to Phase 2.

During Phase 2, players will have the option of returning to NHL training facilities for small-group informal workouts on the ice and in the gym. The purpose is to simultaneously to minimize the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak and to prepare for the start of a three-week formal training camp (Phase 3).

With added precautions and testing procedures to be added compared to a standard preseason training camp, Phase 3 will see coaches and larger groups return to the ice. Twenty-four of the league's 31 teams will prepare for Phase 4; the resumption of games. As with Phase 2 and Phase 3, there are currently no formal dates (or game venues) established for Phase 4. The hope is that games can resume in July.

Monday's memorandum was developed in conjunction with NHL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Willem Meeuwisse and in consultation with the NHL Infection Control Subcommittee (chaired by Dr. Gary Dorshimer, a longtime Flyers team doctor), It covers a wide variety of issues related to travel, cororavirus testing, best practices and safety precautions to be taken at team training facilities.

Here is what means for the Flyers, both before and during Phase 2.

1. Return to the Delaware Valley

With the exception of several Flyers players who have remained in the local area during the pandemic, most of the team's players and coaches have returned to their places of primary residence. 

The United States government has already exempted professional athletes who live in other countries from being subject to border closures or other travel restrictions, presuming that proper testing and quarantine procedures are followed.

Under the Phase 2 memorandum, any Flyers player returning to the area via public transportation, including by commercial airline, must self-quarantine for an additional 14-day period. Thereafter, as long as he passes coronavirus screening, he may begin to skate and work out at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. 

2. Ongoing virus and antibody testing

As with players from each of the 24 teams that will participate in the emerging return-to-play plan, all Flyers players would undergo Covid-19 testing two days before they return to the ice for small-group Phase 2 sessions. On an ongoing basis thereafter, there will be twice-per-week Covid-19 testing.

On a daily basis, players are instructed to check their temperature no more than two hours before arrival to the Skate Zone facilities.They must report any temperature above 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit (37.5 degrees Celcius). Likewise, players must report common Covid-19 symptoms including persistent coughs, shortness of breath, loss of smell or taste, muscle aches not typical of their exercise routines, or chest pains.

What happens if a Flyers player or staff member tests positive for Covid-19? Under the Phase 2 memo, the team must conduct contract tracing in conjunction with local health ordinances. 

Importantly, the NHL memorandum states that an isolated case or two in which a player or staffer tests positive Covid-19 test does not automatically bring the return-to-play plan to a halt nor does it mean that the entire team must be quarantined.  

Regardless of negative lab tests, temperature and symptom testing, players and staff will be expected to follow social distancing guidelines and hand hygiene standards.

3. At the Skate Zone

On Tuesday, the government of New Jersey opened the door for pro sports teams with training facilities to schedule on-site activities. This includes the Flyers Skate Zone complex in Voorhees.

As with every NHL team during Phase 2, Flyers players will be expected to follow these guidelines while on-site at the Skate Zone:

* Players must wear masks upon arrival and departure at the team facility. For practical reasons, masks are not required when someone is on the ice or in the gym.

* Each group of Flyers players will be assigned a designated "shift" start time and duration of time on the ice. Shifts may not overlap. Inside the locker room, stalls must be spaced at least six feet apart and the room thoroughly cleaned before the next group of players will be admitted. 
* At a maximum, only six players at a time will be allowed on the ice surface or locker room. The Skate Zone has two rinks and two locker rooms at opposite sides of the building. 

* While in the gym, the NHL memo spells out approved workout activities. For example, weight training that does not require a spotter is permitted. 

* While working on the ice, no contact drills can be done during Phase 2 of the return-to-play plan. Note: when Phase 3 is eventually enacted, more typical hockey training camp conditions will apply.

* No coaches will be allowed on the ice during Phase 2. Per the Phase 2 memorandum, Flyers coaches would be permitted to observe on-ice activities from the Skate Zone's balcony perches.

* It is recommended that players shower at home and, when they are done with their workout, leave their workout clothes and hockey gear at the Skate Zone for proper cleaning. Section L of the Phase 2 memo covers the cleaning and disinfecting procedures that all teams must follow at their training facilities.

Even before the pandemic times, it was not uncommon for players from other NHL teams but residing in a certain NHL team's locality during the off-season to request and obtain permission to use the NHL team's training facilities before reporting to their own team's training camp. The Phase 2 memo requests that all NHL teams try to accommodate such requests whenever feasible. 

Media members, player agents, personal trainers, etc., will not be permitted to enter the team training facility for the duration of Phase 2. Team hockey operations personnel can conduct business on-site but cannot have access to players while onsite. By necessity, one equipment manager, one athletic trainer, one strength and conditioning coach, one or two locker room attendants and one team doctor (if needed) are permitted to have contact with players.

4. Outside the Skate Zone

As part of "normal" hockey life, teammates often spend considerable off-ice time together. That is discouraged,in the Phase 2 plan. Within the off-ice confines of the training facility, players and permitted personnel are expected to maintain the standard six feet or social distance and wear approved personal protective equipment (PPE). 

Away from the rink, players are discouraged from carpooling to and from the team training facility. Players and Club personnel are advised to continue to stay at home as much as possible and to avoid unnecessary interactions with non-family members.This includes teammates, as the Phase 2 guidelines specifically discourage players from spending social time together in close contact away from the rink. 

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