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When the NHL Draft was held in Buffalo in 2016, there was one question repeatedly asked when teams interviewed prospects: Do you play Fortnite?
Teams had discovered that some players were addicted to the popular video game and were losing sleep while playing online with friends in distant time zones.
Fast forward and you find video games have become accepted in the drive to keep players occupied in the age of COVID-19.
The Canadiens spend about three hours a day at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard during training camp and have lots of down time as they self-isolate.
“We have a group of guys who go online and play Call of Duty: Warzone,” Brendan Gallagher said about another popular video game he and his teammates have been playing to pass the time.
Gallagher, who describes his video-game skills as “terrible,” said some of the younger players are good, but the 28-year-old added: “You’d be surprised, there are some older guys who play and they’re pretty good.”
A couple of the younger Canadiens, Victor Mete, 22, and Nick Suzuki, 20, participated in an NHL-endorsed tournament featuring the EA Sports NHL 20 game, but lost to the St. Louis Blues pair of Colton Parayko, 27, and Robert Thomas, 21.
As for Fortnite, NHL.com informs us that the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Zach Hyman is hosting a four-day Fortnite camp this week for youngsters whose normal summer camp experience has been wiped out by the virus.
COVID-19 has also affected the normal NHL training-camp experience for players.
“In normal times, you might hang out with the guys after practice, have something to eat,” Gallagher said. “Now, we come in, do our thing, grab a bag lunch and go home.”
All indications are that the Canadiens are behaving themselves before moving into a bubble in Toronto on Sunday. The players are tested every second day and the only positive tests — for Brett Kulak and Xavier Ouellet — were recorded before camp opened. Both players emerged from quarantine this week and have rejoined their teammates.
“There’s a whole lot of nothing going on,” defenceman Noah Juulsen said. “We get in and get out, we go home and get our rest and come back the next day.”
Most of the players said they are watching Netflix or old hockey games on TV to help pass the time. Jeff Petry said he enjoys watching documentaries and rookie goaltender Cayden Primeau noted that, while he’s a young guy at 20, he’s not into video games and enjoys reading books.
Petry and Carey Price are married guys with families who are back home and are using FaceTime to keep in touch with them.
While the players can pick up lunch as they leave the Bell Sports Complex, they are on their own for other meals. Restaurants are off-limits, which means they must rely on their own cooking skills.
When Gallagher broke into the NHL, he boarded with Josh Gorges and his wife, Maggie, and benefited from her home cooking. Since he’s been living on his own, Gallagher says he has become a better cook, but admits: “the bar isn’t set very high.”
The players try to limit their visits to grocery stores and stock up for a week at a time, while others order their groceries online.
Petry said he has taken advantage of a service that provides ready-made meals.
“I also spend time on the grill, which is something I like to do,” he said.
The meals will generally get better next week when the Canadiens enter their hotel bubble in Toronto at the Royal York. They will have controlled access to restaurants within the hotel as well as room service and team meals.
The Canadiens will take a charter flight to Toronto on Sunday and will play an exhibition game against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday (8 p.m., TSN, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio). They will practise at the Leafs’ facility before taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins in a best-of-five first-round postseason series, beginning Aug. 1.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020