Thursday, March 26, 2020.
In some alternate timeline - a flash sideways, of sorts - we would have spent the morning chatting with Jordan Staal and the Carolina Hurricanes about what probably would have been a pivotal Eastern Conference showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
We would have asked questions about the importance of the game, what was on the line, being just over a week away from the end of the regular season, the absurd craziness of the first two meetings between the two teams, the legend of Dave Ayres - and, can you believe Dave Ayres?
Instead, in this timeline, we spent the early afternoon of Thursday, March 26, 2020, with Staal, plus fellow Metropolitan Division representatives Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Marc Staal, in a virtual conference call that has become a familiar default for face-to-face communication while we practice social distancing.
The topics of conversation ranged from hockey (of course) to the COVID-19 pandemic to Netflix binging and much more. Here are some highlights from the call.
Staal on the spread of the virus and the beginning of the pause: "The night before we were supposed to play Jersey, we were talking about it over dinner. We were like, 'There's no way we're going to stop playing, blah blah blah.' Next thing you know, a basketball player has it, and that's it. It surprised me in that regard of how quickly it came up. It got you a little nervous. You wanted to get back to your family as quickly as you could to try your best to take care of them. It's been kind of crazy. Lots of different thoughts and feelings, but it's just nice to be with your family and make sure they're safe."
Staal on where he is during the pause: "Still in Carolina. Waiting for the weather to kick in a little bit. Literally been just hanging out in the house with the kids and spending time with family. That's about it."
Staal on trying to stay fit with uncertainty ahead: "It affects you mentally. It's hard to be stuck in limbo and to really not have an idea of a goal or maybe a date to set yourself up for being at your peak when the puck is dropped. Basically, right now, it's just kind of keeping your mind off that, getting a sweat in when you can, getting the heart rate up and staying in the best shape you can. Whatever happens, we'll move forward from there."
Staal on communication with teammates: "This Zoom thing works pretty good. Mostly just a group chat, text messaging and stuff. We've kind of bounced around through all different stuff with the crew, trying to keep it light. Some serious talk, kind of what ifs and all the stuff we're all thinking."
Staal on what he's telling his kids during the day: "Get out of the house. Get outdoors a little bit and burn off some energy."
Staal on what he's binging: "Just started the second season of the Formula 1 racing on Netflix. It's really good. It's starting to turn me into a little bit of a fan."
Video: The Staals, Crosby and Giroux discuss the NHL Pause
Marc on which brother he'd like to be quarantined with: "Probably Jared because I can beat him in things."
Jordan on which brother he'd like to be quarantined with: "I'd pick Marc because he thinks he's good at darts, and I could probably take a lot of money from him."
The group was asked about what they'd like to see when the season resumes: finish the regular season or jump into the playoffs? Marc advocated to finish the regular season or expand the playoffs via more teams or a play-in, obviously.
Jordan's response: "Screw the Rangers. Let's just start playoffs right away. It's hard. You can speculate and try to decide what's fair, but there's always going to be someone who is pissed of about it. Whatever we do decide, let's hope it's the best for the Canes."
The group was asked what they missed the least about facing each other on the ice.
Marc on Jordan: "I don't miss pushing his 230 pounds around in the corner … or at least trying to."
Giroux on Jordan (and Crosby): "They cheat so much in faceoffs. I don't miss that."
Crosby on Jordan: "Just having to contain that big body and fight him off all the time. He's just everywhere."
Jordan on Marc: "Just annoying. Long stick. In the way all the time."
Jordan on Giroux: "If he stopped talking in the faceoff circle, he'd probably win a lot more."
Jordan on Crosby: "The infinite about of cutbacks in the corners is just too much. It makes me dizzy sometimes."
Staal signs off: "Just making sure everyone is staying safe and finding a way to fight through this. I know everyone is excited to get back on the ice at some point here, hopefully sooner rather than later, in front of the fans. We'll push for a good playoff run."