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Canucks have 21 players test positive for COVID-19

Confirm source infection is variant; six games postponed

by Mike Battaglino / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Vancouver Canucks have had 21 players test positive for COVID-19.

A total of 25 people associated with the Canucks have tested positive, including four staff members.

Defenseman Nate Schmidt was added to the NHL COVID-19 protocol list Wednesday. Forward Jake Virtanen was added Tuesday after one player Monday, two Sunday, seven Saturday, five Friday, one Thursday and one last Tuesday.

The NHL has postponed six Vancouver games, through April 10: at home against the Calgary Flames on March 31, at the Edmonton Oilers on April 3, at the Winnipeg Jets on Sunday and Tuesday, and at Calgary on Thursday and Saturday.

The Canucks confirmed the source infection is a variant, but further testing is needed to identify the type. They also said they were able to identify the source of the variant.

"An ongoing investigation by Vancouver Coastal Health and club contact tracing staff attributes the source infection to a single individual obtained in a community setting, which has since been identified by public health as a public exposure location," a Canucks statement said. "Rapid spread of infection throughout the team indicates a link between contacts and the primary case."

Calgary will host Edmonton in a rescheduled game Saturday.

"My biggest concern, they talk about the Canucks ... my biggest concern [is] these are young guys with young families," Flames coach Darryl Sutter said. "That, to me, is the biggest concern, that they're not getting the vaccines necessary as a society here to curb this.

"Everybody talks about social distancing and masks, but the big problem is we're not getting the vaccines, and we need that."

Rescheduled dates for the Canucks' postponed games have not been announced. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said Monday the League remained confident their season will not be shortened to fewer than the 56 scheduled games.

The Canucks' numbers are "concerning from a health and safety standpoint, not necessarily from a scheduling standpoint," Daly wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

"We couldn't care less about the scheduling," Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau said. "You hope everyone is safe and getting better and hope their families are OK. That's the most important thing. You don't really worry too too much about the season right now. We worry about their health and everything like that. When they're feeling better and whatnot you can plan around that. You don't really focus on the schedule right now."

Forward Adam Gaudette was the first Canucks player added to the protocol list; he left practice March 30 following what coach Travis Green said was a positive test for the coronavirus. Defenseman Travis Hamonic was added last Thursday.

"On behalf of our entire team, I want to thank fans everywhere for their support this past week," Vancouver general manager Jim Benning said in a statement Sunday. "Our players, coaches and their families are grateful for the messages, and we all hope for a return to full health as soon as possible. Our focus continues to be on the health of everyone involved, and we are thankful for the extraordinary health care and guidance we have received from our team's medical staff, [British Columbia] health officials, and from NHL and NHLPA medical experts."

The other identified Canucks are forwards Travis Boyd, Jayce Hawryluk, Nils Hoglander, Bo Horvat, Zack MacEwen,  Marc MichaelisTyler Motte, Antoine Roussel and Brandon Sutter; defensemen Jalen ChatfieldAlexander EdlerQuinn Hughes and Tyler Myers; and goalies Thatcher Demko and Braden Holtby. Taxi squad players are not named.

"First and foremost, you just hope everyone's OK and no one has any serious side effects or anything from testing positive or catching COVID," said Flames defenseman Christopher Tanev, who played for the Canucks from 2010 through last season.

"Obviously that's the most important thing. Then going from there, who knows what's going to happen. The League's going to make the calls on all that, how long they're shut down and if we're going to play makeup games or whatnot. I think everyone's still waiting to see what happens with that."

The Canucks have not played since March 24, a 5-1 loss to the Jets. Utica, their American Hockey League affiliate, has not played since March 10 due to the AHL COVID-19 protocol. Utica had 10 games postponed, through Monday. It is scheduled to return Friday.

Vancouver is scheduled to play Monday and Wednesday at Edmonton.

"Whether we have someone that gets it or not, everyone is trying their best to abide by the protocols," Canucks forward J.T. Miller said last week. "The timing is obviously not great -- there's no good timing -- but it doesn't change anything. No matter what the circumstances, no one wants to get it, not one wants to spread it, nothing changes."

Miller and Vancouver defenseman Jordie Benn were sidelined at the start of the season due to protocol. Benn missed six games; Miller missed three.

Hamonic opted out of the NHL Return to Play last season while with the Flames, citing family concerns. His daughter was hospitalized with a respiratory virus as an infant, and he had a newborn son.

"It's a little scary about everything," Calgary forward Andrew Mangiapane said. "Obviously you don't want to catch COVID and all that. Little scary in that aspect. From our standpoint, we've got to make sure we're doing a good job even washing hands, wearing masks, just staying safe, staying safe when you go out, stuff like that. It's obviously scary, but hopefully things get back on track here soon and we figure out everything."

Ten games in the Scotia North Division have been postponed this season, all since March 22. The Montreal Canadiens had four home games postponed due to COVID-19 protocol from March 22-28.

"The Canadian division had been pretty good," Tanev said. "Obviously, Montreal two weeks ago had their positives and now Vancouver. The restrictions are there and are in place for a reason. Obviously so far this year we've been able to follow them the best we can. I hope that we continue to do that as the year progresses here."

Any Canucks games that are canceled could leave other teams in the seven-team division short of a complete schedule.

"It's definitely a possibility," Mangiapane said of not playing all 56 games. "Don't know much. I don't know what the League's going to be doing and all that. We're going down to the later point of the season. It's going to be tough to fill in those games, but we'll see what happens. I don't know what's going to happen, but it's going to be tough."

Due to postponements, Edmonton played three games on a nine-day road trip from March 22-30; it was scheduled to play five.

"You confront [the changes] head on," Oilers coach Dave Tippett said. "If you feel sorry for yourself, you're going to be left behind. You might as well deal with what you can deal with. That's how we play and how we control our emotions and how we go about our day to day. You have to stay focused on the task at hand, and that's finding ways to win hockey games. Sometimes stuff happens that changes the dynamics of what's going in the schedule and you can't let that stuff bother you."

The Dallas Stars had their first four games postponed after 17 players tested positive. The New Jersey Devils had 19 players on the protocol list and seven games postponed, and the Buffalo Sabres had nine players on the list and six games postponed.

There have been 52 games postponed since the NHL season began Jan. 13, including 47 because of protocol. Five games have been postponed because of weather-related issues.

"There's been other teams, other situations throughout the League this year that have dealt with the virus," Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said. "The season's three months in now, so we're getting more and more familiar with everything we're dealing with on a daily basis and the challenges that they bring. All we can do is the best we can to be as safe as we can be. It's not a perfect situation. You can't eliminate every type of risk. Like the rest of the world, we're doing everything we can. So far we've done a good job. Just continue to stay on top of it."

The NHL regular-season schedule has been extended to May 11; it was originally to end May 8.

"I think the schedule [in] some ways is almost irrelevant," Darryl Sutter said. "You know you're going to play every other day, and the teams had mostly had their longer breaks in their schedule, so they have to get the games in, in those few days at the end in early May, where the schedule was over on Saturday, you know that it's going to be extended at some point. I think you just have to focus on the game. It's like going to those tournaments when you were kids, hope you get to play three on Saturday."

Tweet from @Canucks: COVID-19 continues to be very serious and we encourage everyone to follow the public health orders. We hope to have further information to share in the coming days. Stay safe and healthy. pic.twitter.com/qJqMZyUSFY

NHL.com independent correspondents Derek Van Diest, Aaron Vickers and Kevin Woodley contributed to this report

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