On July 26, the Pittsburgh Penguins arrived in their Hub City of Toronto to participate in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs as part of Phase 4 of the National Hockey League's Return to Play Plan. Throughout the team's stay in Toronto, the Penguins' staff will provide a behind-the-scenes look at the unique aspects of "bubble life' with this series, "Inside (the bubble) Scoop."
As the sun shines brightly in the cloudless sky on Toronto's Hotel X in the early Friday morning hours, you can distinctly hear the motor of the leaf blower clearing the pathway on the opposite end of the property. For anyone enjoying the surprising comfort of the plastic, gray Adirondack chairs spread throughout the hotel's courtyard, you can sense the relaxing calm before the storm ahead of Saturday's opening day of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.
Trust us, it won't remain this way for long.
Today marks Day 6 inside the bubble for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After a relaxing, much-deserved day off on Thursday, head coach Mike Sullivan's team will shuttle to the Ford Performance Centre early this afternoon for its final full practice before Saturday's Game 1 against the Montreal Canadiens. The Pens are on the ice later from 2:30-3:30 PM.
Not only does today represent Evgeni Malkin's 34th birthday, but it's also the first time the Penguins and the other 11 participating teams inside the Eastern Conference's Phase 4 Secure Zone in Toronto get a bit more latitude to settle into their normal road routines. For the first five days here, in an effort to safely integrate everyone into the bubble, teams could only intermingle within themselves, including nightly dinners together at pre-set times and locations, most of which were at the teams' respective hotel.
Thus far the food has been delicious, even with scaled-down menus as the very small number of bubble-friendly establishments dealt with having to quickly take care of entire 52-person travel parties at one time. But tonight, the players are able venture out in smaller groups - within the bubble - to enjoy their normal day-before-a-game dinner at the time and location of their choosing. For the Penguins, this includes now having the option to take NHL-approved shuttles (no ride-sharing here) to the Fairmont Royal York, where three new restaurant options await. (Since it's the night before a game, it's safe to say they'll probably pass on Option 4 at the Fairmont location, a food truck. They can leave that one for the staff!)
We all know hockey players are creatures of habit with numerous spoken and unspoken rituals. Needless to say, the players look forward to this chance to resume their regular dining routine.
As the quiet hush of the Lake Ontario breeze fills the morning air, this calm is quickly about to be replaced by the hustle-and-bustle of meetings, bus rides, workouts, practice, dinner and a good night's rest. The Penguins hope the storm that is brewing is a 45-day journey that eventually takes them west from Toronto to Edmonton.