The Arizona Coyotes warmed up at around 11 a.m. at Gila River Arena on Wednesday morning, in front of a crowd of only a couple dozen. The audience consisted of staff and coaches, plus a small herd of media socially-distanced, all wearing masks.
The music was bumping in the arena like it would normally for pre-game warm-ups.
Then, the Coyotes played a scrimmage. Head coach Rick Tocchet’s comments afterward were as critical as his postgame comments can be.
“I thought it was OK, the scrimmage,” he said. “If I had to pick a meter, it’s probably halfway between average and good.”
This is Arizona’s new normal. Back to hockey, no fans, an empty arena, pressure to perform. On Aug. 2., the Coyotes have a postseason game against Nashville to start a five-game series. And with games in the 12 o’clock hour (in Edmonton) for at least the first three contests, the unusual circumstances will have to become familiar.
“To me, some guys are really good about playing at 12:30, some guys, not as well,” Tocchet said, when asked about there being no morning skate for the early games. “I think you have to warm up differently. I think not just your mind, but physically. You have to warm up more, get a little bit more of a sweat earlier-on. [There’s] got to be a little bit more pace to your warm up.
“It’s almost like boxers — before they get to the ring, they’re already sweaty and ready to go. It’s no different than afternoon games. You’ve got to be ready to go. You can’t wait. You can’t treat it like a practice.”
It helps that the Coyotes’ practices have been at the times that the first few games will be.
“I think it’s a good time for us right now, that’s the time we usually practice at, right around there, and that’s the time we’ve been working on right now,” forward Brad Richardson said. “For us, when you have to deal with a long summer, it’s actually a little harder to get used to those 7 o’clock games, because you’re used to skating in the morning and doing all your stuff in the morning, so by the time 7 o’clock rolls around, you’re almost getting ready for bed, to be honest.”
On Wednesday, it was the red team vs. the white team for three 12-minute periods. The sounds of players yelling at each other on the ice and communicating could be heard even in the top row of the lower bowl at Gila River Arena.
“The game’s a lot simpler when your’e talking to each other and helping each other out,” Richardson said. “A lot of times, you’re not seeing a lot of guys coming in quick. Any time you can help out your teammate, it makes a big difference.
“It’s going to be a little eerie. Playoff hockey is usually really loud. It’s going to be eerie in that way but everyone just adjusts and we’re still playing for the same prize. I think the fans are going to hear some interesting things that they normally wouldn’t hear, so I’m looking forward to seeing that.”