The Edmonton Oilers weren’t about to leave The Bison King in Seattle over Christmas. The Emerald City is no place for bison to roam and the organization was prepared to do whatever it took to ensure one of their own wasn’t on his own over the holidays.
Mark Spector of Sportsnet detailed the process the Oilers went through to ensure Jesse Puljujarvi was back in Edmonton after testing positive for COVID while the team was on a short road trip to play the Seattle Kraken. Because Puljujuarvi was across the border when he was tested and entered COVID protocol, the winger couldn’t fly back with the rest of the team and there was concern he’d be spending Christmas in a hotel alone.
“Players were calling me and saying, ‘You’ve got to do something, Bob. Anything,’” said Oilers Chairman Bob Nicholson. “I said, ‘We’re trying…’” And the Oilers were. It wasn’t easy trying to get a plane that could bring a COVID positive passenger home, plus make sure he could get over the border, especially as a non-Canadian. Ultimately, it took finding an empty plane with two willing pilots to bring him back.
That meant the Oilers called upon Graham Williamson, the C.E.O. of LIFESUPPORT Air Medical Services, Inc.. His company operates five medivac planes that transport ill or injured Canadians home from around the world. Williamson was willing but had to find two pilots who would agree to willingly fly with a COVID-positive passenger in an enclosed space no bigger than 5 ft.
Willamson said his bigger concern was “that he is not a Canadian citizen. He is here on a work permit.” It wasn’t clear if the Canadian customs agents would freely let Puljujarvi back in, and he noted, “Had Canada Custom not been agreeable, they had every right not to allow this.” Williamson added, “The borders are essentially closed (to non-citizens). He’s a Finn, and does not have the same constitutional rights that you and I have as Canadians.”
Fortunately, it wasn’t much of an issue and all Puljujarvi had a secure was a quarantine program for when he landed.
Puljujarvi’s Relationship With the Team Has Certainly Changed
Nicholson was willing to spend the $20,000 it took to get Puljujarvi on that plane. He also said he’s pleased by the way his teammates wanted to ensure Puljujarvi wasn’t stuck. Nicholson said, “What I like is the passion that our players had, saying, ‘We’ve gotta get him home. We’ve gotta get him home.’ That speaks volumes to how much he means to his teammates.”
It’s a great story. Puljujarvi was once considered a player that might not have a future in Edmonton, in many ways because his teammates were tired of what they felt was a player who believed he was entitled to more opportunities. Times have certainly changed and he’s a part of this core now.
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