Red Wings' Jeff Blashill relives the 'weird day' when the NHL season paused

Helene St. James, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Hockey

DETROIT -- A week has passed since a surreal day left the Detroit Red Wings making last-minute plans.

On March 12, the Wings woke up in their hotel rooms in Washington, where they were supposed to face the Capitals in an evening game at Capital One Arena. Coach Jeff Blashill and his staff went to the arena hours before a scheduled 11:30 a.m. morning skate. They already were wondering what the day would be like, having watched events unfold the previous evening as the world responded to the coronavirus epidemic.

"Wednesday we got into D.C. and what we normally do as a coaching staff is we got to dinner and we try to watch a hockey game," Blashill said Thursday. "We were sitting at dinner watching a hockey game and President Trump came on and talked about the travel restrictions from Europe. When that happened, I said to myself, boy, this just got real serious.

"After that, we saw online or it came across the ticker that the NBA was going to suspend their season. When I saw that, I thought, boy, that's going to have a huge direct effect on us."

The NBA suspended its season after Utah Jazz players Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell both tested positive for the novel coronavirus. (Blashill said no Wings players have reported symptoms).

Blashill's message to his players Thursday morning was to approach the day as it they were playing, to be prepared.

"The coaching staff went over to the rink," Blashill said. "We were at the rink when we received the message that there were to be no morning skates, no practices, no meetings. But we did not receive word yet that the games that night would be postponed. We cancelled our morning skate and we basically said, sit tight and wait to hear.

"We made arrangements to get home if the season was suspended or paused. But even at that point we didn't know for sure -- should we be going home, should we be going to Tampa, which was our next opponent. How serious was this going to be?"


Shortly after noon, the NHL put the 2019-20 season on pause. The equipment managers loaded the team's gear onto a bus, the coaches retrieved their belongings from the arena, and everyone headed to the airport.

They landed in Detroit around 5:30 p.m. -- 90 minutes before they were supposed to start their game.

"As it got off that plane, I certainly had no idea whether or not we would play more hockey this year or not," Blashill said. "I don't know any more today than I knew then in terms of that. But it was a weird day, for sure."

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