Mike Poirier, Asst. Athletic Trainer and Rob Kennedy, Asst. Equipment Manager with this year’s Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning take us into the Bubble from day one in Tampa to 91 days later hoisting the Cup in Edmonton!
How long where you in the Bubble?
MP: For me personally, 91 days. I entered the Waterside Marriott in Tampa on June 29, so I spent 27 nights in a hotel in Tampa, prior to going to Toronto and then to Edmonton.
RK: I was in the actual Bubble for 65 days. However, my family left for MI on June 21st. So, I was basically self-isolating at home for the month prior to going into the Bubble. I believe we went 101 days without seeing each other.
Early on in the Bubble, did teams/training staffs interact with each other?
MP: After a mandatory 5-day team only quarantine, we were allowed to interact; in fact, it felt like I was at a PHATS convention. We should have gotten CEU’s! We were all running into each other whether at the game rink/practice, rink/ hotel. There was so much movement due to the volume of games and practices.
RK: It was nearly impossible not to interact with each other. Like Mike said, we were pretty limited the first 5 days. But, after that, with all the constant movement and being in the same hotels etc., it was difficult not to.
What surprised you most about the Bubble?
MP: What surprised me the most about the Bubble was how the schedule of games and practices flowed smoothly. I think the only hiccup in the schedule was our 6-hour 5 overtime game against Columbus.
RK: I have to agree with Mike on how smoothly everything went. Especially at the start, when there were 12 teams. I don’t really remember any hiccups that anyone could say were controllable. His example of the 5OT game is perfect.
What surprised you least?
MP: Knowing that there would be a lot of games being played at the game venues, we had concerns about game ice conditions and potential injuries due to it going into the Bubble. Once there, it wasn’t surprising to see players “losing edges” a lot more than normal and having some weird non-contact tissue injuries due to skating alone.
RK: The comradery and willingness to work together shown by all the support staffs. We all worked really well together to make this work. Everyone chipped in and helped each other regardless of the competition on the ice.
What did you do during your down time in the Bubble?
MP: There wasn’t much downtime once the playoffs started. We played every other day plus back to back games, so I was busy with treatments and practices, and we had to move in and out of practice rinks and game rinks on a daily basis. If I did get down time,
my fun consisted of playing baseball and wiffleball at BMO field, and dominating a pop-a-shot mini basketball arcade game.
RK: Like Mike said, once the actual playoffs started, there wasn’t really much down time. The first two weeks, exhibition and round robin, we had some time. I spent that time staying in touch with family and friends. Getting a workout in when and where I could, and then just spending time bonding as a group.
What did you do for fun in the Bubble?
RK: In Toronto, we were able to play basketball and had plenty of outdoor space for different activities. Guys played whiffle ball, threw the football around, bocce ball, cornhole, spike ball and I think there was even a synthetic putting strip. There were tennis courts and squash courts as well.
In Edmonton, we were a bit more limited. Guys played board games and cards. Yahtzee and Uno were the most popular.
Will you change in anyway how you prepare for next season after preparing for the Bubble?
MP: Just hoping life is back to normal and we WON’T have to prepare for anything other than normal hockey schedule. I’m sick of wearing masks.
RK: I don’t really think so. This was an extremely unique experience that required unique planning and preparation. Hopefully we never have to do this again. I think if we were to change anything, it would be to downsize the number of things we travel with on a routine basis.
Looking back, would you have done anything differently leading up to leaving for the Bubble?
MP: I would have packed less clothing; half the clothes I brought I never used.
RK: Unlike Mike, I wore every article of clothing I brought. Except for my jacket. LOL! As far as doing anything differently, I can’t say that I would. Sometime before Game 5 of the Final, Ray and I chatted about how impressed we were with how well prepared we both were from an equipment and medical standpoint. It’s one thing to prepare for a “long” two-week road trip, and quite another to prepare for up to 10 weeks away. And we are extremely proud that we were able to pull it off. Hats off to our entire support staff!!!
Were you limited to a few restaurants for your meals?
MP: The hotels all had several restaurant options and 24-hour room service. I found myself using Uber Eats and Door Dash a lot as the days went on. If you ordered food through Uber Eats or Door Dash, the food was brought to a central location outside the hotel where it was disinfected and then you came down and received it.
RK: Early on in Toronto, no. There were quite a few options at the start. As time went on and teams dwindled, some places closed to us and re-opened to the public. I think for us as a group, we were a bit superstitious at times. Meaning we ate with the same small groups either at the same restaurant or ordered from the same places through Uber Eats.
Can you both talk about all the safety procedures that had to be put in place?
MP: The NHL did a great job with their protocol and how each phase played out. Let’s face it, we had no positive cases of Covid in the Bubble. From bus drivers to hotel staff members to arena personnel, no one tested positive, especially considering the hotel and arena staff members were not truly “isolated” when they left the hotel.
RK: The safety procedures were extensive. But as Mike said, the proof is in the fact that there were 0 Covid cases over the 10-week period. Between wearing a mask, getting tested every day, using individual bottles for our players and countless other “one use” items, the league and every staff did an amazing job keeping everybody safe.
Can you compare Toronto & Edmonton? What were the benefits of both?
MP: Toronto was better for quality of life and not going crazy! The hotel had more to offer as far as amenities, (there was a rooftop pool, tennis courts, BMO field, etc.,). The downside to Toronto was that the practice and game rink were both 15-20 minutes away in opposite directions, so the unpacking and unloading of gear and trunks was time consuming every day.
Edmonton was ideal from a work standpoint because we had the same locker room the entire time we were there and you could walk from the hotel to the rink via skybridge, so it made it easier for planning treatments and when extra or injured players would skate.
RK: Toronto was by far the less restricting of the two Bubbles. There was plenty of outdoor space between courtyards, terraces and BMO Field that I never really felt confined. I didn’t mind that we needed transportation to get to the game and practice rinks so much. At least it felt like we were getting away. I definitely felt that Edmonton was more constricting. However, at that point we had the advantage of moving to a new venue and we were that much closer to what we were all trying to achieve. It was much nicer to not have to move every day in Edmonton. We were able to keep the same room the whole time. Whereas in Toronto, we had a home base practice room, but still had to move the gear once or twice almost every day. We actually kept a tally. LOL Toronto- 43 moves. Edmonton-6. Home-1. For a total of 50 times that we moved the gear.
What was it like to watch the games without an audience?
MP: For me it didn’t bother me at all, I’m busy enough during a game that having fans or not having fans doesn’t affect me. You can definitely hear more of the players chirping at each other with no fans
RK: It didn’t really affect me in any way personally either. I do think it had an effect on the games in the sense of momentum swings. I think if any of us have ever wondered about that, we got our answer. Clearly there are buildings in the League that are more hostile than others. And I think it’s clearer than ever that those hostile fans can create a positive energy for the home team.
Tell us about the night you won the Cup! Do you think winning it in the Bubble felt any different? If so, how?
MP: It was an unreal experience, might have been the first time I ever smiled during a game. From what Pat Maroon was saying and some of our staff members who had previously won it, they said that this celebration was different because it was just the players and staff in the dressing room, no one else was around, so it made it more unique and special realizing what you had accomplished with this “Bubble” group of guys.
RK: It’s always so hard to win, no matter what level. The times I won in the minors, my immediate feeling was relief. “Thank God it’s over”. I expected this to be the same, but it wasn’t. It was such an incredible feeling to finally win the Stanley Cup. We all dream about it. It’s why we all do our jobs. Winning it in the Bubble was much different than had we won in “normal” circumstances. I think our entire group was brought so much closer together by being confined for such a long time. We were truly all in it together. Every single person in our group of 52 made sacrifices.
What was it like to not have your family and friends at the Conference Finals and Finals?
MP: No distractions!
RK: I agree with Mike, NO distractions!!!! I think it would have been great for Tom and I to have had our sons there (Quinn and Tyler help us out on game nights at home). And obviously, each of our families make sacrifices all year long for us to chase our dreams. So, they deserve just as much recognition as anybody. Thankfully, we have a great owner in Jeff Vinik. And a great organization that allowed all our families to be together for the Final games.
What was like to see your families (with the Stanley Cup!) after so many days on the road?
MP: The feeling was indescribable, tears of joy. We were only gone for a few months, but I can only imagine what the feeling is like for military members who are gone a lot longer and that moment when you see them.
RK: It was nothing short of amazing!!! Our families deserve an incredible amount of recognition and credit for allowing us to chase our dreams every day. And to finally bring the Cup home was that much more gratifying.
Do you have any plans for your day with the Cup?
MP: We will have a party at my house here in Tampa; just waiting for details and what Covid restrictions may be.
RK: We’re planning to have a party here in Tampa. The biggest thing for me is trying to show appreciation for all the people that helped me get here. There are countless people that have played big and small roles along the way. But, none bigger than the guys that gave me my first job. Without them taking a chance, I would have never had this opportunity.