In today's Baptist Health Practice Notebook, Aaron Ekblad makes his return to practice, the Panthers are feeling safe after recent COVID-19 news, and Noel Acciari bags a stowaway.
The Florida Panthers received good news on their first day in the bubble.
After missing the final three days of the team's "Return to Play" training camp while dealing with an undisclosed ailment, star defenseman Aaron Ekblad was back on the ice for practice during the team's first on-ice session at the Ford Performance Centre in Toronto on Monday afternoon.
"He wanted to get back to practice in the worst way," head coach Joel Quenneville said.
This news should elicit a long sigh of relief from fans that had been biting their nails down to the bone over the past few days worrying about whether or not the team's top rearguard would be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the New York Islanders on Saturday.
One of just a handful of players on the Panthers to take the ice in all situations, Ekblad led the team with 22:59 of ice time per game during the regular season. Competing in 67 contests, he also set new career-highs in both assists (36) and points (41), while also chipping in five goals.
"He's obviously a big piece of our team," said forward Jonathan Huberdeau, a teammate of Ekblad's over the past six seasons. "It was good to have him back. We're fortunate. He looked good on the ice today… He's going to be ready for the Islanders. He's a big piece for us."
While Ekblad will be back in the lineup when the team kicks off its best-of-five series against New York, Quenneville made sure to point out that the 24-year-old will not be taking the ice during the team's exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday afternoon.
The Panthers are expected to have an off day tomorrow before facing their cross-state rival.
"We're not going to play him in the Tampa game, but he'll get skating time on Wednesday," Quenneville said of Ekblad's status. "We'll go into the weekend and he'll be ready to go."
So far, everything is coming up negative in the bubble.
That's a positive.
With all 24 teams now having checked in to their respective hub cities (the Eastern Conference teams in Toronto and the Western Conference teams in Edmonton), the NHL announced today that zero players tested positive for the coronavirus during Phase 3 of the Return to Play Plan.
"The NHL has done an awesome job," forward Noel Acciari said.
From July 18 to 25, a total of 4,256 tests were administered to more than 800 players, with all of them coming back negative. After the league announced two players tested positive during the first week of training camps in early July, there have been no positive tests for COVID-19 since.
Moving forward, the Panthers are feeling even more confident in their safety as they continue to abide by the NHL's strict social distancing guidelines and testing protocols throughout Phase 4.
"[It's been] surprisingly very smooth, given the little technical details that have to be adhered to," Quenneville said of the team's first 24 hours in the bubble. "When you look at the compliances you have to follow, guys have been great, as far as the NHL, in keeping everyone aware of what's necessary and what's needed and following accordingly with the testing and scheduling."
FINDING A STOWAWAY
Before arriving in the bubble, Acciari made a splash on social media.
While doing some last-minute packing at home in South Florida on Sunday, the veteran center posted a photo on his Instagram of his newborn son, Greyson Drew, popping out of a backpack with the adorable caption "Caught this little stowaway on my way to Toronto" accompanying it.
Acciari admits the photo was a team effort between himself and his wife, Kaitlyn.
"It was mutual, taking that picture, between my wife and I," Acciari said of the photo, which has garnered more than 4,000 likes. "We thought it would be funny to try to put him in the bag and maybe put it on my shoulder, but he's a little too small and not strong enough yet to lift himself."
Welcoming his son into the world just a few days before training camp began earlier this month, Acciari is one of many parents on the Panthers that will have to adjust to spending an extended amount of time away from home throughout what the team hopes is a very long postseason run.
But, thankfully like the rest of us, Acciari has become a pro at using apps such as Zoom while quarantining over the past few months -- a talent he expects to use a lot in the coming weeks.
"It was tough to leave," Acciari said. "He's only two weeks old. In those two weeks I saw him grow each day, just features change. It's definitely tough, but it's a good thing we have FaceTime and can send pictures. I can see him that way and talk to him through that."
-- Attention: Due to COVID-19, convalescent plasma donations are needed urgently in South Florida.
At Baptist Health, convalescent plasma (plasma collected from people who have recovered from coronavirus) is being used to treat critically ill COVID-19 patients not responding to other therapies.
To schedule a donation time or to learn more, click HERE.