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As uncertainty swirls, Blues' O'Reilly ramps up for return to play

As uncertainty swirls, Blues' O'Reilly ramps up for return to play

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Blues 6, Blackhawks 5

Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, center, is sandwiched by Blackhawks Brandon Saad and David Kampf on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020, in the third period of a game at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

Blues forward Ryan O’Reilly took part in Phase 2 workouts Monday at Centene Community Ice Center. It’s time to ramp up for the resumption — and conclusion — of the 2019-20 NHL season.

Whether the NHL actually gets to Phase 4, its 24-team postseason format. ... Well, O’Reilly thinks it will happen but he’s not entirely sure.

“You know how important this stretch is,” O’Reilly said. “Still, it’s not 100 percent we’re gonna play. There’s a lot of things that have to be worked out yet. But we want to be as prepared as possible, getting back over here and skating together. All the guys trying to come in and be on the ice together and be ready. ... We want to be here.”

O’Reilly’s comments came on a Blues’ Zoom call with radio play-by-play announcer Chris Kerber asking questions. They came on a day when the NHL announced that 26 of the league’s players had tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of Phase 2 workouts June 8.

Fifteen of those positive tests have come among the more than 250 players who have taken part in Phase 2 workouts (which are voluntary). Eleven additional players have tested positive since June 8 among players who have not been taking part in Phase 2.

In addition, with the start of Phase 3 (training camp) just 11 days away and the expected start of the postseason just a month away, the NHL has yet to announce a decision on its two hub cities. There already is talk that the start of camp might be pushed pack, at least a few days.

In baseball, a pair of Washington Nationals — Ryan Zimmerman and Joe Ross — along with Arizona's Mike Leake and Colorado's Ian Desmond have decided not to play during the coronavirus pandemic when that sport resumes play for personal health and safety reasons. Will some NHL players, even Blues players, feel the same way when the time comes?

So there remains a lot to think about as hockey moves ever so cautiously toward a return to play, including a rising coronavirus case count throughout the United States — including in Las Vegas, which is still considered a frontrunner for one of the hub city slots.

“I think there’s times where we’re positive and think we can do it,” O’Reilly said. “But then there’s times when it’s a little bit more difficult and there’s so many extra questions. If everything gets under control and things go well and everyone is smart and it’s taken care of, there’s a good possibility that we will play. It will happen.

“We know it’s gonna be difficult. We’ll be away from our families. Being confined in these small spaces. But I think it’s important for our game, the growth of it, to be able to salvage this season, and have a winner, not let the whole thing go to waste.

“But again, the priority is the safety, and the safety of families. Those guys that have young kids or have kids ... that’s definitely the priority. But I think the NHL’s doing a good job, putting in good (health and safety) practices to help us make sure nothing happens.

“Again, there’s still a lot of uncertainty.”

For O’Reilly and other Blues participating in Phase 2, return to play already has led to changes. Such as taking your temperature when you get up in the morning and asking yourself a series of health-related questions related to COVID-19 symptoms.

There’s regular testing for COVID-19 — nothing like a long swab up the nose to get your day into high gear. Those are all just some of the Phase 2 protocols.

“You don’t want to be spreading this, or get it at all,” O’Reilly said. “You want to protect your family and the team. So it’s been good. The tests are obviously a little much, a little annoying, but they’re over quick. It’s five seconds of your entire day that you feel uncomfortable and then it’s done. So it’s not that bad.

“It’s just kind of stay on top of it, being smart and really practicing social distancing. Sanitizer everywhere, washing your hands the right way and go from there.”

Eventually, it could lead to hockey and a chance for the Blues to defend their Stanley Cup.

Tuesday marks 110 days since the last NHL games were played on March 11. It will be more than 140 days between games if the season resumes as scheduled in early August.

“It’s gonna be unique, for sure,” O’Reilly said. “Last year, with our success, we know what a good game for us looks like. We know we have to play our style, be physical, and be hard to play against. That’s got to be the staple of our game going through this.”

It has been so long between games, however, that neither the Blues nor anyone else enters the postseason with any kind of momentum. Or in most cases, few if any injuries.

“Every team is starting from scratch,” O’Reilly said. “Every team that’s involved in this right now is looking at this (like) they have an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. So it’s gonna be one of the toughest stretches of hockey any of us will ever be in.

“It’ll be the toughest tournament — it’s like nothing else. So it’s gonna be extremely difficult. I think as a group we know that. We know it’s gonna be completely different from last year.”

Assuming, of course, that hockey is indeed played in August.

Prospect tourney canceled

The host Detroit Red Wings announced Monday that the NHL Prospect tournament held in Traverse City, Mich., has been canceled this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Blues annually are among the organizations that sends a team of prospects to the tournament in early September.

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