J.T. Miller was calm, but brutally honest, as he explained the impossible task the Vancouver Canucks are being faced with.
With his team still enduring an outbreak involving a COVID-19 variant, the Canucks have been handed an outrageous schedule down the stretch.
Miller was one of the few lucky ones on his team to not test positive for COVID-19, but even he admitted he’s not ready to play 19 games in 31 days. The Canucks haven’t played a game in over three weeks, and when they practice as a team on Thursday, it’ll mark the first time they’ve done that in over two weeks.
Nine Canucks players came off the NHL COVID-19 list today, but seven players remain in protocol.
On Friday, the Canucks will not only be asked to play the Edmonton Oilers after just one full practice, but they’ll have to play the next night against the Toronto Maple Leafs as well. This upcoming homestand will see them play six games in nine days.
“I don’t really feel ready at all, if I’m being completely honest,” Miller told reporters today.
Miller said he feels for his teammates, and even admitted feelings of guilt.
“I just want to make sure that everybody’s families are doing well, mine included,” he said. “Mentally, even for me, this hasn’t been the easiest year. I mean, I’m coming up on 50 days of quarantine in this last year.”
The 28-year-old veteran described the virus as being a “rough go for a lot of people.”
While the virus affects people differently, this wasn’t a case of a bunch of young hockey players just getting the sniffles.
Quinn Hughes reportedly needed IV treatment, for instance. And even the players that suffered mild symptoms were worried for their families.
“I’ve definitely been thinking about my teammates and their families every day and feel fortunate that we weren’t as affected as they were, obviously. My priority is my family, and my family at the rink. It’s kind of a crazy scenario.”
Not about hockey right now
While Miller is frustrated by the schedule given to his team, this isn’t a case of a player complaining about competitive imbalance. This is a health issue — not only the risk of soft tissue injuries that will surely follow, but lung capacity for athletes needing to perform at a high level coming off a respiratory virus.
“I haven’t really thought about hockey much… I know that everybody’s got a job to do, but for an entire team to be ready to play in one practice and a pre-game skate is a little bit hard to comprehend.”
“Looking out for people’s health… this is going to be a really tough challenge. Even for me, skating a couple of times and my lungs are screaming and definitely not in game shape at all right now from sitting around and not doing much.
The first player to come off the COVID-19 list for the Canucks was Adam Gaudette, who has since been traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite being in a playoff race, Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton said he wasn’t going to play Gaudette right away because he needs time to get in game shape.
The Canucks won’t get that luxury.
“I couldn’t imagine what these guys are going to have to go through to get back and be ready to play at a high level,” said Miller. “It’s not ideal obviously for anybody, but we have a job to do, I guess.”
Asked if he worries about the health of his teammates, Miller replied, “That’s all I worry about.”
“We’ve tried to talk about the number one priority [being] the players’ health and the families’ safety, and it’s almost impossible to achieve that with what they’ve asked us to do here on our return. I can’t speak on behalf of the guys that have had COVID, but I’ve talked to my teammates a lot, and this hasn’t obviously been that easy.
“It’s different for everybody, and now to try to come back and play is going to be very challenging, and not very safe if you’re asking me. And I’m sure there’s other people that would agree with that. I don’t know what it’s going to take for us to try to avoid injury, stay healthy.”
“One practice isn’t even close to near enough time to come back and perform at a high level. It’s not even about not being able to perform, it’s nothing to do with hockey at this point. Brutally honestly, we’re going to need more time than this to come back and play hockey. Even the guys that didn’t get it, we’re not ready to play.”
With sound echoing more clearly through empty arenas, Miller’s competitive nature has been evident for all to see and hear this season. And while he didn’t exactly channel Jim Mora when he was asked about competing for a playoff spot, Miller’s answer spoke volumes.
“I hope that people don’t take this the wrong way, because I’m a very competitive guy and when I go on the ice, I really want to win… But at the same time, this doesn’t have to do with hockey right now for our team.”
“We all want to win, we’re all competitive… [but] to think about the playoffs when guys are still recovering from this and are expected to be ready to play… this is a very extreme scenario and it’s dangerous to a lot of our players, so I want to make sure that our priorities are in the right spot.”