For the N.H.L. Bubble to Succeed, Everyone Had to Be Flexible

Broadcasters did interviews from high above the ice instead of rinkside. A popular cafe in Edmonton tailored its menu to athletes. And most players have gone weeks without seeing their families.

By Carol Schram

EDMONTON, Alberta — With the presentation of the Stanley Cup just days away, the N.H.L. will soon be able to take a victory lap for being the first of the four major North American pro sports leagues to complete a season during the coronavirus pandemic.

The quality of the hockey has been solid, and the safety protocols have held, but an adaptable mind-set for all parties, from top executives to stadium workers, has been crucial for the expanded, 24-team postseason to work.

Take Assunta Marozzi, who operates Fantasia Caffé and Catering in Edmonton, one of the two cities the N.H.L. used for its season restart. Her storefront location has been closed since coronavirus restrictions were introduced in Alberta in March, but her food truck has been operating inside the N.H.L.’s so-called bubble since late July, providing locally made gelato, specialty coffees and a menu of Italian-inspired dishes and daily international specials.

The Fantasia staffers who enter the bubble each day, usually three to five, have had to be cautious: When they arrive, they each go through a temperature check, fill out a symptom survey and deliver a negative coronavirus test.

But they have had to be nimble, too: Marozzi noticed that as more teams headed home after elimination and more league staffers arrived from Toronto — home to the second N.H.L. site — and other locations, her clientele’s tastes shifted.

“There were a lot more players in the initial phase, so we were tailoring to the athlete,” Marozzi said. “More salads and high-protein snacks. Now, with more teams departed, the demographic changes. We’ve adapted and been giving different types of specials.”

While the 24/7 bubble residents — players, team and league staff members, and medical officers, all labeled Category 1 or Category 2 participants — are literally fenced inside a “secure zone” that includes two hotels and the arena in Edmonton, others, like Marozzi and her team, live off-site and enter the bubble to work. They are considered Category 3 and 4 — staffers who have limited contact with players, including hotel housekeeping staff, security officers, ice crew members and others.

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