Back home in Brandon, Manitoba, Ryan Pulock may be nearly 3,000 miles away from the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York, but for the New York Islanders defenseman, the magnitude of the virus is still hitting close to home. Pulock's girlfriend, Paige Friesen, is an emergency room nurse and exposed to potential cases of the virus on a daily basis.
"They're the first line of seeing those people," Pulock said of Paige and her fellow nurses in the ER. "They've been pretty cautious in treating everyone like they have it whether they do or not and just protecting themselves in that area...It's nerve-wracking.
"Fortunately, the whole situation hasn't gotten really bad in that area so they haven't really been dealing with a lot," Pulock added. "It's just uncertain times. They aren't sure if it's going to get bad or when it's going to get bad. It's tough."
Between the extent of the virus in New York and hearing firsthand accounts of what Paige experiences during every shift, Pulock appreciates the heroics of healthcare workers during these unfathomable times.
"What some of these nurses are going through; it's scary, it's heartbreaking," Pulock said. "[Paige] goes to work and she's exposed to that stuff and then comes home so you have to be careful…You've really got to honor the work that the nurses and healthcare staff are doing all around the world."
Shortly after the NHL suspended the regular season on March 12 due to the outbreak, Pulock returned home to Manitoba, where spring was still nowhere in sight. Upon his arrival, he self-quarantined for 14 days at his parents' cottage.
While the confines of isolation may be cumbersome to most, Pulock found bliss at his wintery oasis, where he ice-fished every day and maintained his skating fitness out on his neighbor's lake.
"When I first got back it was like full-on winter here for at least two weeks," Pulock said. "When I was at the lake, our neighbor clears off a rink and looks after it every year. I was able to go over there. He does a really good job actually. He has a little machine and he floods it so the ice was pretty good."
While the 25-year-old hasn't been home this time of year since before his junior hockey days, Pulock hasn't been able to see his parents or relatives too often, since he's opted to err on the side of caution given the outbreak. He has enjoyed spending time with Paige when she's not at work and giving his three rescue dogs; Jonah, Joshy and Cujo, plenty of attention.
When Pulock isn't out in the yard with the dogs, or utilizing his modest household gym to keep his fitness up, he's been finding other miscellaneous activities to fill the days.
"I'm working on a puzzle, which I wouldn't normally do," Pulock said with a laugh. "It's a New York City puzzle. There's some taxis. I think it's supposed to be Times Square-ish. I'm making some pretty good progress. It's a 1000-piece one. There's bigger ones, but I thought I better start [small] and don't get too crazy right off of the start."
He's also making sure to keep up with the culture.
"I watched Tiger King," Pulock said. "Other than that, not a lot. I ordered some golf stuff and some stuff to do at home. Just take the dogs out and try to play with them. I've been trying to cook; I've been doing some barbecuing since the weather has been a little bit nicer. It's spring time so with the dogs out there I've been mopping the floors about every second day. That's been fun."
Up until the season's abrupt halt, Pulock had been a rock for the Islanders d-core and was feeling confident in his role. Through 68 games this season and in his third year as a mainstay in the league, Pulock was on track to surpass his career-highs in points, assists and power-play goals. The 6-foot-2, 217-pound right shot had already set a career-high with 10 goals and led all Isles defenseman in scoring with 35 points, including three power-play goals and three game-winning goals.
With sporadic injuries throughout the season that disrupted the Islanders blueline, including his defensive partner Adam Pelech's season-ending Achilles tendon injury in January, Pulock embraced the opportunity to log larger minutes and more responsibility in clutch situations. At the time of the season's pause, Pulock led the team in time on ice per game with an average of 22:24.
"I haven't thought about it too much just in the aspects of hoping it's not complete and maybe we will get back playing in sometime in July or August or whenever it might be," Pulock said of reflecting on his season so far. "With my overall game, I was pretty happy with it. I felt like the last couple of weeks of the season I was probably playing some of my best hockey that I'd maybe played in my career. I've tried to grow my game each year and I think I felt pretty good about the steps I was taking this year. Unfortunately, that came to a stop pretty fast there, but I was happy with what I had done so far throughout the year."
While the status of the regular season remains up in the air, Pulock is clinging onto the belief that they will get back to playing in the near future and is doing his best to ready himself if that preferable outcome comes into fruition.
"It's obviously not a fun time, but I was pretty fortunate to get to do some of that stuff that I normally don't get to do," Pulock said. "It's usually a pretty busy time this time of the year in the season. You're never going to get that opportunity. I'm trying to take advantage of the situation that we're in and make the best of it."