Flyers forward Jake Voracek wasn’t necessarily angry. Annoyed is more like it.
He was back at practice on Sunday after being unavailable for Saturday’s session. Voracek, who looked fine on Sunday, said there was a delay in getting the result from his routine coronavirus test from Friday, which caused him to sit out.
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A stipulation of the NHL’s return-to-play plan prohibits teams from commenting on the injury or illness status of players beyond statements like the one issued by general manager Chuck Fletcher on Saturday that Voracek was “unable to participate in today’s scrimmage.”
In the middle of a pandemic, ambiguity only fuels speculation. Social media then adds its own touch of gasoline.
Voracek, a 12-year NHL veteran and one of the team’s leaders, was forthcoming about the reason he had to miss Saturday. But he firmly explained that in a locker room currently filled with 34 players, there are 34 personalities.
“We’re here to play hockey,” he said. “I know that we’re in a different situation than normal people. [But] on the other hand, it’s our health. If you [meaning a player] decide to share it with someone, it’s up to you. If you don’t want to share it, go ahead. I know you guys have to write about it and [fans] want to talk about it, but we are people, too. We deserve to have some privacy, as well.”
It’s a fair point, but it’s also a nuisance the players likely will deal with as games get closer. It feels like a virtual powder keg as American cities and states dance with the balance of restrictions and openings. Everyone is wondering, Is the NHL really going to be able to pull off crowning a champion?
A few hours after Voracek was forced to sit out Saturday’s practice, the Canadian government told the Blue Jays they were not permitted to play this season in Toronto. That’s the same city the Flyers will head to next Sunday along with 11 other Eastern Conference teams.
The mighty difference is that baseball is allowing its teams to travel, which would involve crossing the border to and from the United States. The NHL is wrapping its teams in a virtual bubble to limit the chance of a coronavirus outbreak. The 12 Western Conference teams will be in Edmonton.
There was also a bit of an insurrection in the NFL as numerous star players openly questioned that league’s COVID-19 plans with their camps set to open in a week.
Voracek led the Flyers in assists this season with 44, and was a responsible player on both ends of the ice. He was back in his usual right-wing spot on Sunday on the top line alongside Claude Giroux and center Sean Couturier.
“He had a lot of energy, a lot of pop in his skating,” coach Alain Vigneault observed. “I talked to him about this a couple of days ago. He had obviously skated back home a couple of times a week. He’s looked good out there. He’s looked focused. I like the energy and enthusiasm.”
Voracek’s return was a relief to fans who are counting on the Flyers to break an eight-year drought since winning their last playoff series. It’s also been 45 years since the Flyers last won the Stanley Cup, and this is Philadelphia. Fans tend to lose their minds quickly when a star player is simply “unable to participate” in a routine practice.
But all is well, folks. For now.
“In some kind of way, you want to protect the player’s privacy, right?” Voracek said. “If someone was to get it, not everyone has to know it or [a player can] decide not to share it. It’s what’s wrong with this world today. Everybody seems entitled to know everything about each other. It’s not a bad thing to have some privacy sometimes.”