Before leaving for the Toronto bubble, Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said one of the off-day activities he was looking forward to the most was pickleball, and assistant coach Derek Lalonde was squarely in his crosshairs for a match.
Lalonde claimed a pickleball title during his time in the Minnesota Wild organization but left out a few details about his court exploits.
"I just learned how to play pickleball, but did Newsy tell you about his pickleball accident," Cooper asked? "He didn't tell you he blew his knee out and was on crutches for six months because of pickleball? Oh, he left that one out? Right away, I'm playing him at that one."
The Lightning had their first off day in Toronto on Thursday, but the Cooper-Lalonde pickleball showdown will have to wait for another. The Lightning, it turns out, have a lot of pickleball players on their roster.
"It didn't go down yesterday just because (the court) was player dominated," Cooper said. "So many of our guys play."
There were plenty of other athletic pursuits for coaches and the players to get into Thursday on their day off, however.
The Lightning have stressed they're fortunate to be staying at Hotel X in Toronto. Bolts captain Steven Stamkos said he was pleasantly surprised with the team accommodations and called them "world class."
That extends to the recreational activities provided by the hotel and surrounding area too.
"The facilities here are incredible as far as the gyms," Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn said. "I think on one floor there's a spin studio and pilates. Another floor you've got all your weights. Another floor there's squash courts, tennis courts."
On Mikhail Sergachev's Instagram story, the third-year defenseman filmed a doubles tennis match between Yanni Gourde and Carter Verhaeghe versus Ondrej Palat and Erik Cernak, Palat showing off a smooth looking topspin forehand in the short clip. In Kevin Shattenkirk's Instagram story, he and Alex Killorn appeared to be the winners of the day on the pickleball court, Shattenkirk holding up the No. 1 finger with the caption, "Not even close..5-0 TBL Pickleball Champs," while tagging Verhaeghe, Pat Maroon, Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Mitchell Stephens.
Thursday's day off was a good opportunity to continue to build team camaraderie inside the bubble, especially for newcomers like Goodrow and Coleman, while also getting a recovery workout from the exhibition game a day earlier and just blowing off some steam from being cooped up in one area.
"You don't want to lay in your room all day and stare at the TV," Schenn said. "You want to get out and be around. All the other guys on your team are kind of looking to do the same thing. You're able to kill the day that way."
Hotel X is adjacent to BMO Field, home of Major League Soccer's Toronto FC and the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League, and with the stadium not in use by its respective teams, players and staff in the Toronto bubble are able to use the facility to watch games on the jumbotron or toss a ball around on the field.
"They've let us use BMO Field to throw the football or play soccer, throw the baseball around, so there's been some good options for guys to kind of get some active recovery in and get their mind away from hockey and going to the rink," Bolts defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. "We had a little bit of a mixture of everything (Thursday), and good for guys to keep moving a little bit on the off day and feel good about themselves but get geared up and ready for a good practice day today."
Schenn said he wasn't sure what he was going to when he woke up Thursday but in the morning he and a few teammates walked over to BMO Field and threw a football, played spikeball and tossed around a baseball.
"We ended up doing that for about an hour and you kind of see some guys from other teams around there doing the same thing," Schenn said. "It seems like you can kind of at least get out and walk around a little bit outside. It was a nice day, so did that in the afternoon."
Cooper said he also took advantage of the Toronto weather during the off day with highs near 80, a sunny sky and a slight breeze blowing in off Lake Ontario, a welcome change from the Tampa Bay summer norm of high temps, sweltering humidity and afternoon thunderstorms.
"If there's one thing, you're inside a lot, whether it's ice rink, game rink, practice rink, meal rooms, meeting rooms," Cooper said. "You're constantly inside. So, I tried to spend as much of the day yesterday outside. It was good. It was a beautiful day. It was good to take a step back and now get back at it today."
One of the worries entering the bubble was the amount of time the team would be spending in one place without the ability to get out and explore. The experience could get monotonous, especially for a team that goes deep in the playoffs and has to spend two months there.
So far at least, between the games, the meetings, the workouts, the film sessions and now the off-day activities, there's been plenty to keep everyone occupied.
"Actually, you know what, the day flew by pretty good," Schenn said. "Now we're back with a practice day. All the days are somewhat blending in, but you're around the guys all the time and you're able to kind of keep your mind off things and stay busy."