From now until the conclusion of the 2021 IIHF Men's Ice Hockey World Championship, Rangers forward Colin Blackwell will be documenting his experience on and off the ice as he competes in the tournament for the first time alongside fellow Blueshirts Kevin Rooney and Zac Jones. Follow along with his journey right here, and on Twitter (@NYRangers) and Instagram (@nyrangers).
Hello from Riga!
Today is Day 4 for me over here. Our trip out was pretty easy - it worked out really good for me, Roons and Jonesy (he came in from Virginia I think). All of us on Team USA and Hockey Canada flew out from Newark on Sunday on a private charter, and there were a lot of familiar faces that I've played with and against before.
It was a direct flight into Riga - nine-plus hours - so I watched a lot of movies, some TV shows (check out Seaspiracy on Netflix and Peaky Blinders), played some cards and kind of got to know some people here and there. Then I took a little bit of a nap and next thing I know, we're in Riga. I kind of planned it out perfectly where I stayed up as much as I could on the flight so that when I got here, the jet lag wouldn't be too bad and I was able to get to sleep at a decent hour.
And then … it was quarantine time.
We're basically in a bubble as of right now. When we first got here, we had to do a couple days of quarantine in our hotel rooms. They had some workouts and mobility work for us that we did on a Zoom call, so that was pretty interesting… But looking out the window of my hotel room and even just driving to the rink yesterday, it honestly is absolutely beautiful here - from some of the buildings and architecture, you can tell there's a lot of history here and would love to get around and check it out when I can.
On Tuesday morning, all of our COVID tests checked out negative, so we finally got to the rink for our first pre-tournament practice. And that was also interesting.
If you think about it, we came off the end of our NHL season, then a long flight, then a couple days of quarantining, so just to kind of get the legs going - it was a tough practice, that's for sure. Plus, out here, the ice sheets are bigger than NHL regulation, so every time you're out there, it's just that much bigger and that much further and that much more effort. We had a two-hour session, which is longer than what we were used to this year (since we played so many games in a short span, the practices were relatively short). We're trying to learn some new systems, learn some new teammates, get acclimated to everything and kind of get back into the conditioning shape that you miss when you take a long flight before quarantining.
Even after just one practice, it seems like Team USA has a good mix of guys so far. There's some young guys - some guys like Jonesy that played in college and maybe signed at the end of their college season, got a little bit of pro experience - and then we have guys like Justin Abdelkader and Brian Boyle who were seasoned NHL veterans and are kind of coming back and leading the way. We've got a good mix of some speed and skill up front, and it looked like just from yesterday's practice that we had a lot of mobile defensemen, so maybe that'll help us on the big ice.
I think you've got a lot of guys that really want to be here and are excited to represent the country. This is a tournament I've been following for a while, and growing up, I did some USA Hockey stuff, but to be considered for this was something that I wasn't expecting. To get that phone call from Dru and to know he was thinking of me - that was truly something special.
It's also cool to be here not only with Roons and Jonesy, but with a huge group of guys from Massachusetts who have all come up through Mass hockey. That's awesome to see. Ryan Donato, I played with in college and his dad was my coach at Harvard. He was my linemate my last year there and his freshman year. There's a couple others here that I played with when I was in the Sharks organization - Kevin Lebanc is one of them. And Brian Boyle, another Mass name and a former Ranger. Just kind of having that comfort level, knowing that you've got a little bit in common with a lot of people here is really cool. A lot of awesome names here and just to be a part of it is something special for me.
Our first game is on Friday against Finland, so got a couple practices before then and just trying to really take it day by day, take it in stride and enjoy the moment. I'm treating this as a once in a lifetime opportunity. Can't wait to get it going!