Getting a traveling party of 52 people into a secure zone in another country during a global pandemic comes with its challenges, as one might imagine.
In Nashville, that task falls on the desk of Predators Manager of Hockey Operations Brandon Walker, and the to-do list on this occasion was a tad lengthy.
Essentially, the Predators don't get anywhere as a team without Walker. From planes to hotels, buses to meals and everything in between, he takes care of it all. Those efforts allow Preds players to focus on winning hockey games, instead of wondering where they're going to find their pregame lunch or how they're going to get from one city to the next.
Every team has an individual in that position, and the 24 teams participating in Phase 4 of the NHL's Return To Play Plan - 12 here in Edmonton, 12 more in Toronto - have relied heavily on people like Walker to get them to the Bubble.
A plan like this doesn't come together overnight either. So, how did the Predators - many of whom had scattered all over the world during the NHL's pause - get back to Nashville and then to Edmonton?
"It all started taking shape when we started hearing about potential hub cities," Walker said from the JW Marriott in Edmonton. "Once you started hearing cities and that kind of thing, it became a little more real. As it became more real, after having done this for so long, I started thinking about hotels and customs and players who are going to need immigration to get in because maybe they've had expired passports or a lot of those different details that we deal with when we come into the country… So, you start thinking about, 'Can they really do it knowing what we know from the inside? Can they really do it?'"
The answer eventually became clear that the League was indeed going to make their plan a reality. Once the Predators received confirmation they would be heading to Edmonton - and potentially staying through the beginning of October - things really ratcheted up.
Official word of the arrangements came approximately three weeks ago, and the coordinating with the NHL began.
During a typical road trip, the Predators would have their choice of hotels to stay in, bus companies to use and other amenities to arrange, but because of the nature of the situation, the League was heavily involved when it came to accommodations and itineraries.
"The NHL just told us, 'This is where you're going,' so that made it a little bit easier from that end, and it also made it so that 12 teams weren't trying to get into one hotel," Walker said. "The League pointed us in the direction of the things that were going to be handed to us, then we took it over from there. We did our own rooming lists… and they let us choose floors and rooms and different things like that. And then the buses, once we got our practice times, once we got our COVID testing times, then we slot in bus times and different things like that again. Rather than choosing different bus companies, the league just worked with one and helped us take care of that."
The circumstances under which this is all occurring are unprecedented, but the massive undertaking accepted by the League, the city of Edmonton and each of the 12 clubs in the city is paying dividends thus far.
Last Monday, the NHL announced they did not have a single positive test among players leading into Phase 4. Combine that with the daily COVID testing, along with symptom screen and temperature checks - the latter two of which are accomplished by individuals utilizing the CLEAR app on their phones - and the almost 1,000 people residing in the Edmonton bubble are feeling rather safe in their surroundings.
"This is different because we're in a medical situation - a pandemic - where we've never even had to think about something like this before," Walker said. "It's not like we're coming here for a tournament where we can just call a restaurant and everybody can go to a restaurant, or we can do an off-site activity, we're in a situation where we can't leave the hotel. It's a set of challenges we've never seen before, and everybody in the League has done an awesome job."
Five days into Phase 4, the Predators are settling in quite nicely to their surroundings. A 2-0 shutout victory in Thursday's exhibition against Dallas helps to boost the morale even further, and for everything else that comes along with playing hockey in a bubble, ultimately, the Preds are here to do just that.
"The players are understanding, and they're taking this with an open mind, enjoying the process and getting ready to play which is the most important part of why we're here," Walker said. "Everybody's done a great job, and I think the benefit will show on Sunday when the guys get out there and they're back playing hockey again. That's really what everybody wants."