Mathew Barzal misses hockey. So much so, the New York Islanders forward eagerly remained on Long Island for two weeks after the NHL officially suspended the season on March 12 in hopes of the COVID-19 outbreak slowing. He has since returned to his hometown of Vancouver to be close with his family during the quarantine.

"I kept calling [General Manager Lou Lamoriello] just to get updates," Barzal said about the first two weeks of the league pause. "He gave me some really good advice to just be patient. This is just a pause on life right now and we've just got to do the things we're being told… This whole thing because it's really bigger than anything we've seen."
Now, back at home with his mother, father and younger sister, Barzal is adjusting to a new routine as he self-quarantines. But for the zestful 22-year-old, the transition into near isolation has felt tedious at times.
"The hardest thing for me is not being around lots of people," Barzal said. "Just being around my teammates and having fun at the rink is my favorite thing in life. Not being able to do that has been tough. I've been going crazy."


Barzal craves competition, so without getting his fill on the ice, he has turned to games around the house as his outlet.
"I'm killing my dad and sister in ping-pong," Barzal said. "I think I played an hour of ping-pong and didn't let up on my dad once. Then, I played cribbage and I beat my mom a couple of times. I was celebrating] in the kitchen and really enjoying my wins. I don't know what it was. I would have played any game yesterday. I just had so much energy. I just wanted to get competitive over something."
Outside of fitting in off-ice workouts and self-admittedly eating like a king with all of the home-cooked meals he's devoured, Barzal has taken up playing the guitar. The hobby piqued his interest as his linemate - and avid guitar player -
Jordan Eberle introduced him to the instrument in the middle of the season. While Barzal is not on Eberle's level of playing full-songs yet, he is proud of the progress he's made in quarantine and enjoyed his new enriching hobby.
"Until about two months ago I hadn't even picked up a guitar or strum a chord," Barzal said. "I'm super fresh into it. I'm more just learning the chords right now. I want to get the basics right now before I dive into a couple of songs. I've learned a few light songs and I'm getting better."
Barzal and Eberle may chirp each other in the room and on Twitter, but Barzal has a new appreciation for Eberle's off-ice skills.
[Tweet from @jeberle_7: Unlucky me.....
"I seriously respect people that can play the guitar," Barzal added. "You don't just pick up the guitar and become good. It's something you really have to work at and people that are good, you can tell that they've worked at it."
At the time of the NHL's pause and in the midst of a fierce push for playoffs, Barzal was leading the Islanders in scoring with 60 points (19G, 41A) through 68 games. Eager for hockey to resume, Barzal has heard all of the different rumors and propositions of potential formats for the hopeful return of the season and shared his opinion on that subject.
"It's super unique. I'd be cool with playing a different style or a different format with something to kind of offset the year because it has been such an different year," Barzal said. "I don't think we're ever going to, as long as I'm playing at least, have a season like this where it's just an absolute halt [to the] season and [there's] uncertainty if we're even going to finish the rest of the year. If they were going to switch it up and do something unique like that I would be interested. I think the NHL has a great opportunity here to make it a unique scenario because of what's going on. We can make it enticing for viewers to watch, something new and fresh for the remainder of the season."

NYI@OTT: Barzal rips wrist shot home from the slot

While a wide range of timelines and formats have been floated, Barzal is open to the different options and ultimately hopes to salvage the season. Until the decision is officially made, the center is taking it day-by-day and ensuring he'll be ready for when or if that call comes.
"We're still only a month off of the season," Barzal said. "If they were to resume the season and go back to playing pretty quickly I think we would have no problem. At the end of the day it's the NHL's call...Whatever they decide, I'll be ready to go and so will our team."