(Photo credit: Elsa/Getty Images)
We can finally say it: hockey is back. The circumstances behind the sport’s return may be unusual but it’s back nonetheless.
Since suspending its season back in March, the National Hockey League, along with the rest of the sports leagues across the world, wondered what their next steps would be. Like other leagues and businesses across the globe, the NHL has been forced to adapt under the circumstances of COVID-19.
Marianne Helm

Due to the precarious nature of this pandemic, the NHL was in an unenviable situation on how to proceed. Some thought it would have been best for the league to follow the same route as the American Hockey League and the Canadian Hockey League, who among others, cancelled the remainder of their respective seasons.
The NHL, however, chose not to take said path, powering through instead.
In a process that took an abundance of strategy, determination and patience, the NHL resumed.
It may be unorthodox, even surreal, to be watching live hockey in the middle of summer but after taking the necessary precautions — carefully choosing the right hub cities, for one — the league and most of its teams are back in action.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with former Los Angeles Kings, and current Winnipeg Jets associate, Jamie Kompon about the current situation from how he and his team are adapting to this unprecedented situation and how he likes having hockey back.
During Self-Isolation

I began by asking the former Kings assistant how he and his family have coped during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of Jamie Kompon

“You know what, it’s been different but it’s been good,” Kompon said. “The safest place for us to be was in Winnipeg, so we spent all of our time in Winnipeg.”
Always committing to his coaching duties, though, Kompon was sure to dedicate some of his time to his work.
“It was good to reflect on the season thus far, trying to get things you’d normally do at the end of the season wrapped up knowing there was an opportunity to play,” the Jets associate coach continued. “[I’d go over] things that you’d want to do to help your team and things you need to look at and address. There were things that were done really well. Our season was a trying one but we stayed in the fight and we got this great opportunity, so I wanted to make sure from my standpoint that I was prepared. So, I spent a lot of time doing video, watching our games and spent a lot of time with my wife and trying to keep ourselves busy around the house and different things. So, it was definitely a different time but it was one that we won’t forget anytime soon.”
Unseasonable Passion

While northern Alberta is known for its harsh winters, weather is a non-factor in Edmonton in that regard. In fact, the city, like much of North America, has experienced quite the heatwave this summer. Yet, while playing in heat may be commonplace for players in Florida, Vegas or Arizona, playing competitively while the calendar says July and August is uncharted grounds for the NHL and everyone involved in this summer’s events. Kompon is no exception to this.
The Canadian Press/Jason Franson

“It’s definitely different when you look out the window of your hotel or you’re walking to the rink and it’s 85 degrees here in Edmonton and you’re going, ‘Okay, this is kind of surreal,’” the Jets assistant admitted with a chuckle. “You mark down on your game card that it’s July 29 and you’re playing an NHL hockey game. So, that’s a little surreal.
“If you told me that we were going to play under these circumstances, I don’t think I would have believed you — until you live it and you’re there. It’s definitely interesting. That’s for sure.
Another new circumstance for the teams involved is how often they’ll see coaches and players from opposing teams. While teams being together themselves is normal, sharing a hotel with 11 other teams is anything but. Still, Kompon and his team remained focused.
“The first five or six days, they want us to stay within the hotel and go to the rink and back and forth, et cetera, and not intermingle with other teams,” Kompon noted. “You’re not really going to. You’ll stop and say hi and that sort of thing but everyone’s focused on what needs to be done.
“Seeing all the management teams and all of the elite players from around the league in this area, in this, for lack of a better term, as they call it, the bubble, it’s pretty awe-inspiring. The players are amongst their peers — the best in the world — and you’re matching wits as coaches with some of the best in the world. So, it definitely gets your juices flowing.”
Coming Together

While everyone in Edmonton and Toronto may all be in the same boat, so to speak, there are certainly some things to get used to. The scene at the hotel, at least, isn’t as hectic as it was when teams first arrived.
The Canadian Press

“It was a lot busier,” Kompon said of the hotel the 12 Western Conference teams are sharing in Edmonton. “The first couple of days, in and out, people going to their hotel rooms and everything like that, and now that the games have started– it is incredible the work that goes on with all of the equipment managers and all the staff working behind the scenes to get dressing rooms available, to shuttle teams in and out to practice rinks. It’s basically like a concert being torn down and set up so the venue has teams move in and out.”
While certain areas of this experiment are running smoothly, the atmosphere at Edmonton’s Rogers Place has proven to be a bit more challenging. Regardless, adaptation is key.
“The hotel traffic has calmed down and now the rink traffic has ramped up, as you can imagine, with 12 teams trying to get dressing-room space, trying to get ice-time space, shuffling around in and amongst the dressing rooms to get them on the ice and get them prepared,” continued Kompon. “It’s definitely been a busier place. The hotel was calmer in the hallways and the meal-room areas but it was definitely interesting seeing the teams and the players preparing, doing their routines before our games. So, it was interesting. That’s for sure.”
The Quest for Lord Stanley’s Chalice

Photo courtesy of the NHL

In spite of the circumstances, all 24 teams — 12 in Edmonton; 12 in Toronto — are focused on one thing: winning the Stanley Cup. While each team may be at different levels as far as talent and experience go, the rust factor is just as prevalent across the board. For everyone involved, it’s back to business and the same amount of time off and Kompon, for one, is definitely excited for what lies ahead.
“The field is wide open this year and we have an opportunity to vie for the Stanley Cup,” a determined Kompon stressed. “If you told me that four months ago, we would’ve said, ‘Yeah. Whatever it takes, we’ll be here.’ We’ve got this opportunity and we’re not going to take it lightly and move forward from there.”
Since relocating from Atlanta in 2011, the Jets struggled in their first few seasons back in Winnipeg. In recent years, though, the club has turned a corner. With the likes of Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Connor Hellebuyck, the Jets have established themselves as Stanley Cup contenders, reaching the Western Final in 2018.
It Takes a Village

When critics look at the league’s past work stoppages or other unpopular decisions, it’s easy to think the worst of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league and even the NHL Players’ Association. Whatever qualms even the harshest of the critics has for Bettman, the league or the P.A., though, it is crucial to be objective. With that in mind, the aforementioned parties, while flawed to some degree, should be commended for, one, not giving up on the current season but, two, and most importantly, making the environments in the carefully-chosen hub cities as safe and healthy as possible during these unprecedented times.
Stephen B. Morton/ Associated Press

“It’s phenomenal,” Kompon emphasized. “[The NHL has] done an excellent job here. The NHL and the NHLPA have done a remarkable job to get this game back. There are testing protocols — the measures that we have to go through to get cleared to leave the hotel, to get into the rink, to get our test results, to make sure everyone’s safe, the protocol with the masks — with everything that’s being done, it’s been an incredible job. Hats off to them in the job that they have done.
“Like I said earlier, I cannot believe that we’re playing hockey right now after a short period of time and talking to some of the league officials that have stopped in to ask us how things are going, they find it pretty hard to believe, too. They picked these hub cities for a reason and they’ve done a great job in terms of getting the community involved and making sure that everyone’s safe and everyone’s tested.”
Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

While he is impressed with the work that has been done by the NHL, the Players’ Association as well as the countless staff working around-the-block to make sure everything and everyone is safe and healthy, Kompon admits that this has been a process, one that will see some flaws along the way. Overall, though, the job done by all parties involved has been so far, so good.
“It’s a learn-as-you-go process,” Kompon continued. “No one’s ever been through this before, so there are going to be hiccups and they’re very receptive to that. There are some things that they’ve got to iron out but everyone’s got to be understanding of the situation and everybody’s responded the right way. So, the NHL, hats off to them for getting this up and running, us playing hockey and giving the fans an opportunity to see hockey just about 24/7, so it’s an exciting time for them, too. Unfortunately, they’re not in the building but at the same time, they’ve got a chance to watch the game that we all love.”
Photo courtesy of the NHL

It may not what we’re used to but as the old adage goes, When life hands you lemons, make some lemonade — or, heck, if life hands cold, hard snow, make some ice. However you look at the situation, it’s good enough under the circumstances.
While there have been, and will be, flaws along the way, the NHL and company have worked tirelessly to give their ever-loyal fanbase what they’d been forced to miss for the past few months. While fans may be upset that they’re unable to attend games right now, it’s hard to argue against having hockey under these circumstances being better than no hockey at all.
For Jamie Kompon, like the rest of the coaches in the 24-team tournament, it’s less about an unusual atmosphere and more about the mission of winning the Stanley Cup. This goes especially for a Jets squad with some unfinished business on their minds.
For the Jets, they finished the abbreviated 2019-20 campaign at 37-28-6. In the playoffs, their first test will be against Calgary Flames, marking the first postseason meeting between the clubs since 1987.
For the NHL, the NHLPA, the 24 teams involved and, of course, the fans, this playoff tournament is a breath of fresh air, to say the least.
It would be a gross understatement to suggest that the past few months have been trying on all of us but with a full effort from everyone involved, the NHL is back on the ice, showcasing its very best in a quest for what’s arguably the most difficult team trophy to attain.
It may not be perfect but with all things considered, and especially with the current issues involving Major League Baseball, Gary Bettman has spearheaded a movement that is giving hockey fans something to be thankful for. This includes another opportunity for Bettman to be lovingly booed at season’s end when he presents the Stanley Cup — something Jamie Kompon and the Winnipeg Jets are determined to be on hand for.
Rick Madonik/Toronto Star

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