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Maybe No Santa Claus for 2 Maple Leafs’ Coaches and 7 Players

The Toronto Maple Leafs had games postponed, but worse. Nine players and coaches are stuck in Vancouver. Can they get home for Christmas?

The pandemic suddenly got very real for the Toronto Maple Leafs. What seemed like a threat that was happening someplace else suddenly turned into a real threat that, while it might not cause immediate hospitalization, has a chance to ruin Christmas for a lot of Maple Leafs’ players and the families of Maple Leafs’ players. 

Related: Maple Leafs 2021-22 Statistical Leaders: 10 Interesting Facts

It’s Not About Hockey Anymore

Maple Leafs’ head coach Sheldon Keefe said it clearly. It wasn’t about hockey anymore; it was about personal health and the mental health of his family as well. Keefe said, without knowing what really was going to happen: “Frankly, my priority right now is to get back to Toronto in time for Christmas, healthy and safe.” 

Keefe added that he wanted to get back to his family. He noted that “I think everybody is like that. You don’t want to be stuck here (away from home in Vancouver) through Christmas. So (there are) lots of reasons to be smart right now, and trying to do everything that we can to contain it.”

Games Were Called Off Yesterday, And the Team Separated

Earlier all the weekend road games that had been scheduled against the Vancouver Canucks and Seattle Kraken were called off. Then the team was separated. The healthy team members, who has tested negative, flew home to Toronto. The group of nine, including Keefe, new assistant coach Spencer Carbery, and seven players who had tested positive, remained in Vancouver in isolation. 

And the clock is ticking. With less than a week before Christmas, the rest of the team is now home in Toronto with their families. The nine stayed behind. And, even if they are able to get home before the holidays, it’s likely that the fathers and husbands among them – players like John Tavares, Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Keefe himself, all are required to self-isolate from their children and wives on Christmas morning.

These Positive Tests Just Got Personal

Yesterday, Toronto Star reporter Kevin McGran called it correctly when he noted that as an NHL head coach, Keefe suddenly became a husband (his wife is Jackie) and father (he has two sons – Landon, who’s 11, and Wyatt, who’s 9). His priority was no longer winning hockey games, it was to get home safely. (from “The nightmare before Christmas: Anatomy of a Leafs’ road trip cut short by COVID-19, Kevin McGran, Toronto Star, 19/12/21).

As McGran noted: “No coach speaks like that. When it comes to questions about priorities, the answers are always about the next game, the next practice and controlling what you can control. At that point, the Leafs had no positive cases.”

While the Delta variant was contagious, the Omicron variant is even more contagious. That’s the variant that in part hit the Calgary Flames so hard. That’s the variant that’s caused games to be canceled. That’s the variant that’s the cause for the sudden rise in cases and the corresponding restrictions.

The Virus Is Nothing to Take Lightly

The simple-minded among us believe that, because hockey players are not showing symptoms, it means that the virus won’t cause problems later in their lives. True; it seems that the Omicron virus is initially less harmful than the Delta virus before it, but that might not be true in the long run.

McGran, as a good journalist does, asked epidemiologist Colin Furness of the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto about the health impact of the virus on asymptomatic players. 

Furness noted why games should be postponed. “The players may do fine during the initial, respiratory phase of this vascular illness. But no matter how fit and healthy they are before getting infected, lung scarring, autoimmune disease, and brain damage that some will suffer won’t elevate their teams or their fans. There exists no game important enough to risk this.”

Furness also noted, “Because asymptomatic people rarely get diagnosed, we have no real understanding of the risk of long COVID. …  It will be a long time before we know what mild cases of COVID might cause.” He noted certain viruses that seemed harmless enough initially were later in life linked to cancer.

Time to Stop, Wait, and See What’s Next

It’s time for the Maple Leafs to forget about their games and try to all get home safely. What happened to the Maple Leafs is also a message to all of us. Stay safe. Don’t listen to those who believe they know better than an epidemiologist like Furness.

Be safe. Do what’s the smartest, but maybe not what’s the easiest.

Related: Where Has the Maple Leafs’ Top Line Disappeared To, So Far?

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