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Brothers in NHL adjusting to COVID-19 protocols, guidelines

Tkachuks, Staals, van Riemsdyks, others dealing with less interaction, contact during season

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Brady Tkachuk and Matthew Tkachuk each has a similar warmup routine, so inevitably the Ottawa Senators forward and Calgary Flames forward will drop to the ice and stretch on opposite sides of the red line before their teams face off at Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Monday (7 p.m. ET; TSN5, RDS2, SNF, NHL.TV). 

That's when the brothers will take advantage of a rare opportunity to speak face-to-face this season.

"It's just, 'How are things? Good,' and 'How are you feel feeling?'" Brady Tkachuk said. "Bumping elbows and stuff like that and then, 'Good luck.' 

"I wish it could be more, but it's just how it is."

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, NHL protocols restrict players from different teams, including brothers, from socializing off the ice. This has been an adjustment for brothers throughout the NHL, who enjoy their games against each other as much for the fraternization as the competition.

Though this will be the sixth of nine games between the Senators and Flames this season in the Scotia North Division, Brady, 21, and Matthew, 23, haven't had many opportunities to chat in person outside the few interactions they've had before or during games.

"Normally when we play each other, the night before or even if we come in the night before that, we'll always find time to go out for dinner and go to each other's apartment and just hang out," Matthew Tkachuk said. "Obviously, that's not really allowed this year. We look forward to that in a normal season. That's one of the best parts.

"I think we look forward to playing each other not so much for the actual game, but more just to see each other off the ice and catch up."

Brothers playing in the NHL find themselves in the same situation as those living in different households around the world during the coronavirus pandemic, relying on technology, such as Zoom or FaceTime, to stay updated on each other's lives. Those opportunities haven't been as numerous this season either because of a compacted schedule.

There aren't many nights when Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal, Detroit Red Wings defenseman Marc Staal and Buffalo Sabres center Eric Staal each is off. At least Jordan, 32, and Marc, 34, have played against each other five times, with three more games to come between the Hurricanes and the Red Wings in the Discover Central Division. 

"It's still a treat getting to play against your brother," said Jordan Staal, who is in his 15th NHL season. "There's no higher league to be able to play in as a family, and we don't take that for granted."

But with play restricted to within the divisions this season to limit travel, barring a trade, neither Jordan nor Mark will play against Eric, 36, and the Sabres, who are in the MassMutual East Division.

"It's not as fun, obviously, but it's the world we live in and it's part of it," Jordan Staal said. "We do a lot of FaceTiming. We're not typically tech-savvy brothers, but we've actually been on the phone a fair amount, keeping up with each other and just making sure everyone is well."

Washington Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and Philadelphia Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk have been doing the same. They played against each other once this season, a 7-4 Flyers win in Washington on Feb. 7, but they didn't interact much aside from making eye contact when they passed each other during warmups.

"It's crazy, but you've got to follow those rules," Trevor van Riemsdyk said. "They're obviously in place for a reason, but it seems nuts you can't even go say 'hi' and give your brother a hug."

Washington played at Philadelphia three times in one week -- March 7, 11 and 13 -- and Trevor was a healthy scratch for those games. Normally, Trevor, 29, still would have had an opportunity to see James, 31, or visit with him, his wife, Lauren, and their 10-month-old daughter, Scarlett, at their home on an off night, but COVID-19 protocols don't permit that.

When the van Riemsdyks' parents drove from their home in Middletown, New Jersey, to watch the March 7 game, which was the first at Wells Fargo Center this season when a limited number of fans were permitted to attend (3,023), Trevor couldn't see them either. 

"It's just trying to keep everyone safe, but definitely you feel like you're missing out a little bit, especially with [James'] daughter," Trevor van Riemsdyk said. "From the first time we saw her to a year old, so much changes, so that's definitely tough."

Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov and Red Wings forward Evgeny Svechnikov would have loved to spend more time together before and after they faced each other for the first time in the NHL at PNC Arena on March 4. Andrei, who turns 21 on Friday, and Evgeny, 24, had talked about playing in the NHL against each other since they were children growing up in Russia.

But the Svechnikovs' parents decided not to make the trip from Russia to watch in person because of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. And though the brothers were able to pose for a photo together during warmups, they were limited to a brief conversation when they saw each other before the game and some words of encouragement during it.

"I think we were standing next to each other on a face-off," Andrei Svechnikov said. "He said, 'Good job.' I said, 'Good job. Keep it going.' Something like that."

Despite their minimal exchanges, it was a night neither will forget. Evgeny had an assist, and Andrei had a goal and an assist in Carolina's 5-2 win.

"I can tell you it was still fun playing against my brother because it was kind of our dream," Andrei Svechnikov said. "It was probably one of the best days."

So maybe being unable to spend time together outside NHL rinks this season has made all the brothers appreciate more the time they're together on it. 

They'd prefer things return to normal soon, but for now, they'll cherish the moments they can share.

"Of course, we wish we'd get to see each other after and stuff like that, but that's just where we're at right now and, hopefully, as we play later on this year maybe the rules or protocols change," Brady Tkachuk said. "Now, it stinks. But it's always nice just to see [Matthew] on the ice and see how great he's doing and how he keeps progressing as a player. It's been good to watch."

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