15 NHL players test positive for COVID-19 after returning for league training

The NHL announced on Monday that 15 players returning for league training have tested positive for COVID-19.

The league said it had more than 250 players return to facilities for optional participation in Phase 2 activities of its “Return to Play” plan, in which 16 teams will play in series to determine their standing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. “There have been in excess of 1,450 COVID-19 tests administered to this group of NHL players,” the league said.

Phase 2 refers to players participating in training activities within the league’s reopening process. Phase 3 refers to when training camps restart, which is slated for July 10. The actual restart date of play is still undetermined. 

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The NHL season had previously been suspended in March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

While the percentage of players reported by the NHL that tested positive for COVID-19 is relatively small, it still illustrates the challenges that major sports leagues and their teams are facing in resuming athletic activity while keeping players — and fans — safe from the novel coronavirus.

Last week, 16 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19, around a month before the league is scheduled to resume play within the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

Beyond the coronavirus itself, the unique play circumstance amid the pandemic may prove challenging to athletes. Speaking to the New York Post, Dr. Stephen Gonzalez, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, described some of the mental health challenges that players may face.

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“It’s a pretty big experiment of willpower and patience,’’ Gonzalez told the Post. “Not being able to train properly for four months, then I’m stuck in a hotel and can’t do anything. They will need something to occupy themselves or it could be a miserable experience.”

For sluggers in Major League Baseball, they’re facing a shorter turnaround time between spring training and opening day, all while balancing the ongoing health concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Associated Press.

Plus, professional athletes will have to get used to playing in stadiums and arenas without fans, as general social distancing guidelines make it difficult, if not impossible, for people to crowds to gather to support their home teams.