Life in the bubble has its perks, as John Hynes recently discovered.
"It's got Timmy Horton's for free, which is fantastic," Nashville's head coach joked on Monday morning, fewer than 24 hours after he and his club had settled into their downtown Edmonton hotel.
The outdoor food truck provided by the Canadian staple known for coffee and baked goods is just one of the many perks available to the hundreds of players, coaches, officials and staff now living in the NHL's Western Conference Secure Zone.
Just like the 11 other clubs here in the province of Alberta, the Predators are getting acclimated to the surroundings they're hoping to have for the next two-plus months.
There are some similarities to a typical road trip - meals available in a hotel ballroom, taking a bus to practice and downtime in the evening - but a daily test for COVID-19 is an addition to the usual routine.
And now, approximately 48 hours in, rave reviews are coming in.
"I'd say it's been excellent from our organization's perspective," Hynes said. "The family pictures in the rooms for the guys and all the staff was a really nice touch. Our team meal room is kind of decked out with a lot of Predator stuff and our [For Smashville] theme for the playoffs. We also have logos on all of our doors at the hotel, so we're trying to make it as homey as possible.
"As far as Edmonton in the bubble, the JW Marriott has been excellent. The food has been fantastic, the rooms are very nice, the way that they have everything set up in the hotel is extremely convenient there's tons of room… and they set up a really nice bubble outside. There's a great area, it's got tables and has food trucks… so it's been great. All the feedback from the players [has been just a] tremendous job by the League, JW Marriott and by our own organization to make it feel as good as possible."
Once the Predators touched down in Edmonton on Sunday afternoon, all 52 people in the team's traveling party - including yours truly - boarded a pair of buses sitting only one person for every two seats to allow for distancing. The buses then arrived at the JW Marriott downtown, the hotel where the top six teams in the Western Conference are residing - and once those wheels crossed over the fence line, life in the bubble had begun.
Video: Johansen, Preds arrive in Secure Zone in Edmonton
Upon entering the hotel, each person found a table with room keys, information packets, a mask with a Preds logo on it and a credential waiting for them. No one is permitted to leave their hotel room without wearing their mask and credential.
Now that the team is two full days into their stay in the Secure Zone, here's a look at what the days consist of.
To start the day, everyone must complete a symptom and temperature check. The NHL is utilizing the CLEAR app, which all individuals living in the bubble have downloaded to their phones. Upon opening the app in the morning, players, coaches and staff are asked a series of questions as to whether or not they are experiencing any symptoms related to COVID-19. After answering those questions, everyone must proceed to one of the many CLEAR stations located throughout the hotel and arena to have their temperature taken.
Once arriving at one of the stations that consists of a tablet on a stand, individuals look into the device which reads their body temperature. Then, they must scan a QR code on their phone on the tablet to sync the reading to their individual profile on the app. If the individual passes all of the screening requirements, the profile in the app turns green, and they are permitted to continue with their day. This is an important step, as individuals are asked to show their app at certain checkpoints to make sure they've passed the requirements.
Breakfast is available at the hotel in Nashville's designated meeting room from 7 to 9 a.m. MT. The meal is set up buffet style with hotel staff preparing the plates to limit contact. Nashville's practices have been scheduled for 2:30 p.m. for the first couple of days, so that allows for some extra time in the mornings.
For Hynes and select players, there is media availability mid-morning via a Zoom call. The NHL has set up an interview area in one of the meeting rooms at the JW Marriott, and all six teams staying in the hotel have utilized that area for their respective availabilities.
A pre-practice lunch is available at the hotel from 10 a.m. through noon where players can fuel up with sandwiches, fruit and the like, if they so choose. Coaches have then held a meeting with players at 11:45 a.m. to discuss the practice plan for the day since space is limited at the practice rink.
Before boarding the buses to practice, all members of the traveling party must complete their daily COVID test. The testing site is set up in the Ford Hall area of Rogers Place, and it's a short walk from the hotel to the arena via a skybridge. Once in Ford Hall, players, coaches and staff choose the lane with the range of letters that corresponds to their last name. They are given an information sheet which is then handed to the individual administering the test.
Once the test is complete, everyone is permitted to head back to the hotel and board the bus for practice. Those practice sessions in Edmonton are held at the Terwillegar Community Recreation Centre, about a 30-minute drive from downtown. The facility has four NHL-sized ice rinks and 20 dressing rooms, approximately half of which are being utilized by NHL clubs.
The Predators have been arriving approximately 90 minutes before their scheduled practice time of 2:30 p.m. through the first two days. Players have a warm-up workout before hitting the ice, and once their session is complete, the team heads back to the buses to return to the hotel.
Dinner is then available back in the meeting room from 6 to 8 p.m. in the evening, and the rest of the night is free to the players. That time is typically spent in their rooms watching television, playing video games, FaceTiming with family and friends or relaxing in the outdoor area adjacent to the team hotel which includes tables, chairs, food trucks, a basketball hoop and cornhole games.
There's plenty to take in, and while routines have been shifted in different ways, health and safety remain the top priorities. With that in mind, word spread through the bubble on Monday, as the NHL announced a total of zero positive cases among more than 800 players during the final week of Phase 3.
That might just be even better news than free Tim Horton's.
"It's different, but I feel like a lot in the last few months has been different," Preds defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "It's just fun that we're getting back to hockey. I think that's the bottom line, and everyone's done a great job with the protocols. Everyone's healthy… but it's pretty surreal [in the bubble]… and that's just something we have to deal with and live with."