By Andrew Bell
Photo: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
It’s been over 25 days since the Arizona Coyotes last played an NHL game, and 35 days since a game was last played at Gila River Arena. At the time that the NHL postponed its 2019-20 season amid Coronavirus outbreaks, the team sat four points out of an eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
Since then, the world has been flipped upside down, with illness rapidly spreading and people glued inside their homes for the immediate future. As concerning as the times might seem, it makes people realize the important things in life – the daily interactions, the conversations, and the sports and entertainment that take people’s minds away from their usually hectic lives.
That was something that Coyotes head coach Rick Tocchet all put into perspective on earlier this week when he spoke with the media via a Zoom conference call.
“Even walking to Starbucks, there are baristas that I know and will talk with for two minutes and some of the restaurants I go to, there are servers and people that get to know you,” Tocchet said.
“You spend five minutes and you talk about life. I haven’t seen those types of people, and then obviously, I miss my players…I think it’s contact with people that I am going to miss and I honestly miss my routine. It’s just getting back in the routine of being at the rink at 8 o’clock. I know I won’t take that for granted again.”
Similar to the rest of the world, Tocchet has been stuck at home. He’s found himself trying to make his own routine. He’s rediscovered a love for roller skating, he’s watched the new Netflix phenomenon, ‘Tiger King’, and he’s tried to regularly keep himself busy during the day, even considering taking an online class in some capacity.
He tries not to watch television until the evening, and along with General Manager John Chayka, the organization has been putting together five-player Zoom calls to stay in contact with various players and not lose touch. Most notably though, Tocchet has been a strong advocate for healthcare and giving thanks to medical workers over social media in these trying times.
“When you watch the news all the time, you think, ‘Who is taking care of these people?’ It’s the front line people. These guys have put their life on the line for everybody else,” Tocchet said. “Sometimes I feel I am a little selfish because I miss hockey so much, but when I look at the day-to-day life and what people have to do right now…I’ve talked to the organization and some players and we were talking about the gratitude of all these people. The doctors, the nurses, the front line people…It’s dear to my heart.”
— Rick Tocchet (@RealRocket22) March 27, 2020
As for hockey itself, Tocchet has also gotten time to evaluate his team and reflect on what went right and wrong in the 2019-20 season up to the point until the season got put on halt. He’s gotten an opportunity to rewatch various games, and get new takeaways about lingering issues such as offensive production and a couple of tight games that were lost over a 14-17 stretch over the last two months. The coaching staff plans on getting together through a conference call later this week.
“I think these are questions that are important to talk about now and not when we get back to playing,” Tocchet said. “It’s almost like exit meetings…I think this is a good exercise for our organization because it keeps your mind going.”
Furthermore, another point that came up during the call was the remainder of the pending regular season and the playoff format considering how the ensuing months proceed around the world. The biggest focal point was the health of players coming off a prolonged hiatus, and with a disease still swirling around.
Although the chances of restarting a season might look bleak, when it came to possible playoff formats, various scenarios were sprung up. Whether it’s starting the postseason immediately in July or August, or adding two extra playoff teams to each conference, that discussion is ongoing.
It’s an imperfect format given the recent events that have transpired, and that’s the way the Coyotes coach addressed the situation as well.
“The only thing I’d be bummed out about is that we have eight to nine home games to finish the regular season,” said Tocchet of his contending team if the season picked back up. “If they said too bad, only the playoff teams are in, I get it. If they say there’s 10 teams in each conference, I am good with that…It’s a hard job and it’s a hard way of finding a fair system as it is.”
The remainder of the regular season and possible postseason will still be up in the air in the coming months, but for now, the most important thing that everyone is focused on is getting healthy with a deadly disease passing around. Tocchet knows it’s a dark time, but similar to being down in a hockey game, it’s about how people respond and rise to the occasion through adversity.
“If you’re talking about mental toughness and mental strength, we are all being tested right now,” Tocchet said. “It’s easy to get lazy in your mind. You think, ‘poor me,’ and sit around. But I think there’s positive things that can come from this.”