Blackhawks arrive in Edmonton for Stanley Cup Playoffs

First in. Last out.

That would be the dream scenario for the Chicago Blackhawks, who were reportedly the first team to arrive in Edmonton on Sunday as the NHL moves on to Phase 4 of its restart. The Hawks are one of 12 teams in Edmonton that will compete to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The other 12 will compete in Toronto.

“We all know it's a once-in-a-lifetime situation,” Hawks defenseman Olli Maatta said during the just-completed two-week training camp at Fifth Third Arena. “I don't think anybody expected anything like this to happen.

“But the NHL has done a great job just to figure things out (and) make things as safe as they can. It feels like the rinks right now are the safest place to be.”

Maatta said he'll be bringing a deck of cards and “maybe a PS4” to pass the time, but there will also be plenty of other things to do to keep athletes entertained during what could be more than a two-month stay in their hub cities.

The Hawks will play an exhibition game against St. Louis on Wednesday then begin their best-of-five series against Edmonton on Saturday. The Oilers game will be televised on NBC and is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.

It is one of five games that day, with the first being Rangers vs. Hurricanes at 11 a.m. and the last being Jets vs. Flames at 9:30 p.m.

Before we get there, however, let's take a closer look at what life will be like inside the bubbles as well as what fans can expect while watching on TV.

• Edmonton has three hotels that will house all players and staff. They are uniquely connected by a fencing system that goes through downtown Edmonton. Each hotel has meal rooms, meeting rooms, training rooms, coaches rooms, and exclusive VIP areas for team members and GMs.

• There will be indoor and outdoor areas for activities like pool, Pingpong, Cornhole, basketball, as well as areas to play soccer and to run.

• Players, league and team staff, and hotel employees will be tested daily for coronavirus. There will also be daily symptom reporting and temperature checks. A health care team will be on hand to assess and treat players.

• Players will be able to watch games live if they wish.

• Once the games begin, we will not see virtual fans or cardboard cutouts on TV.

Instead, the NHL set up 32 cameras – 12 more than a normal game – to help enhance the at-home viewing experience. Some of those cameras will be placed in the stands. One is called a JITACAM, which will be positioned over the seats on a truss.

“It will dolly along the ice,” said Steve Mayer, the NHL's chief content officer. “We really feel like this is a camera that will give you a very unique look. … You're going to get an amazing feel of the speed of our game.”

• The NHL reached out to teams to have their goal songs and goal horns available. Each team's music will be pumped into the arena as well.

• There will be specially produced videos that involve fans from each team.

• There will be supplemental crowd noise during game play.

• There will be a 5-second delay just in case R-rated language slips from players, coaches, staff or even the referees.

Once the best-of-five play-in series are over, the Stanley Cup playoffs will proceed with 16 teams. The final two will meet in Edmonton in the Stanley Cup Final.

As Maatta said, it's going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. One that commissioner Gary Bettman hopes everyone never forgets – “but in a good way.”

The strangest part will likely be felt by the players once games begin. After all, they feed off the energy of the fans. And that includes when they are on the road as they try to crush tens of thousands of hearts.

“Nobody's played at this level without fans,” said Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith. “It's something that we all have to deal with. It's up to each individual to figure out a way to be at their best. ...

“It's important as players that we focus in on just doing what we have to do at being our best no matter what situation that is. That hasn't really changed since the start of our career.

“This is just another wrinkle that we're going to have to deal with.”

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