COVID numbers are rising across North America, including across the National Hockey League.
The NHL has seen 130 players enter into COVID protocol this season, per ESPN, including 66 added in the last 72 hours. Players aren’t the only ones impacted. We’ve seen coaches, team staff, and even NHL officials.
As many as 13 NHL referees and linesmen are currently in COVID protocol, per John Shannon. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek reported that “between 8-10″ were impacted.
Late changes to on-ice crews have become apparent as a result. Three games on December 17 were officiated by three-man crews. Pierre Lambert was the lone referee for Rangers vs. Golden Knights with Kendrick Nicholson sidelined. Similarly, referee Mitch Dunning was held out as referee Dan O’Rourke went solo for Blues vs. Stars. Linesman Ryan Gibbons missed Coyotes vs. Ducks, leaving Travis Gawryletz the sole linesman in that game’s three-man crew.
The Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks also saw a three-man crew on December 16, with referees Conor O’Donnell and Brad Meier joined by linesman Trent Knorr after Ryan Galloway was pulled from the game. A December 15 game between the New York Rangers and Colorado Avalanche saw referee Brian Pochmara miss the first period while awaiting the results of a COVID test.
On-ice officials are subject to similar protocols as players. The NHL recently tightened up those guidelines for players and officials. From the NHL:
On-Ice Officials shall continue to strictly adhere to the Protocol requirement to wear a face covering at all times while interacting with team personnel (other than during Games when they are unmasked).
On-Ice Officials shall physically distance from one another (at least one empty chair) for any meals they eat together.
Meetings for On-Ice Officials shall be virtual, unless transitory in nature.
Officials travel independently – flying commercial – and typically meet prior to games to plan and prepare. These changes certainly impact their day-to-day routines.
“Given the increased number of positive cases in our league within the last two weeks, and changing societal realities with the new omicron COVID-19 variant, the NHLPA and NHL have collectively agreed that all Clubs shall be required to follow enhanced preventative and detection measures,” said the league.
Twenty games have already been postponed. Five teams – the Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, and Nashville Predators – have all been shut down, the Flames through December 23rd with the rest through the Christmas break.
Hopefully the officials can manage to stay healthy. No refs, no games.