PEEK IN­SIDE BUB­BLE WORLD

Hawks’ Cag­giula, Delia of­fer in­sight into daily rou­tine

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BEN POPE BLACK­HAWKS BEAT bpope@sun­times.com | @BenPopeCST

Like many NHL play­ers, Black­hawks wing Drake Cag­giula is pretty con­fi­dent in his golf skills.

But the golf sim­u­la­tor in the Hawks’ team lounge in­side Rogers Place in Ed­mon­ton had a dif­fer­ent idea.

‘‘Let’s just be hon­est: My golf game was pretty good up un­til you got to the green, and then putting in the sim­u­la­tor is bizarre,’’ Cag­giula said, laugh­ing. ‘‘I think I took a seven-putt on one of the holes.’’

Im­per­fect putting dy­nam­ics aside, the sim­u­la­tor re­port­edly has been a hit among the Hawks holed up in Ed­mon­ton. Then again, it’s not fac­ing a lot of com­pe­ti­tion for the play­ers’ time.

While in­side the bub­ble — and Mon­day marked the Hawks’ eighth day there — the 52 play­ers, coaches and other per­son­nel in each team’s party are con­fined to their des­ig­nated ho­tel, the arena, the prac­tice fa­cil­i­ties and the fenced­off walk­ways in be­tween. They’ll live ev­ery day in­side the NHL’s re­turn-to-play bub­ble un­til their play­off run ends.

It’s a far cry from the lux­u­ri­ous treat­ment NHL play­ers usu­ally en­joy on road trips. But it’s also a se­cure set­ting de­signed to pre­vent a dis­as­trous COVID-19 out­break.

Cag­giula and backup goalie Collin Delia de­scribed what the Hawks’ daily life in­side the bub­ble is like shortly be­fore the start of their qual­i­fy­ing-round se­ries against the Oil­ers, which is tied 1-1 af­ter the Oil­ers’ 6-3 vic­tory in Game 2 on Mon­day.

Ho­tel

Rogers Place has a ritzy J.W. Mar­riott con­nected to it, but the NHL only could fit the top six seeds there. The rest, in­clud­ing the Hawks, are at the Sut­ton Place Ho­tel a few blocks away.

‘‘It’s def­i­nitely dif­fer­ent when you walk to the rink and the J.W. Mar­riott is right there . . . and you’re like, ‘Aw, man,’ ’’ Delia said. ‘‘They may have got­ten a lit­tle bit bet­ter shake there.’’

The Hawks have had a few in­con­ve­niences at their ho­tel. For one thing, the air con­di­tion­ing hasn’t worked prop­erly.

‘‘They’re try­ing to fix it, but it’s a lit­tle bit hot in here,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘A cou­ple of guys are sweat­ing pretty bad.’’

‘‘It’s so funny, ac­tu­ally,’’ Delia said. ‘‘[De­fense­man Dun­can Keith] bought a cou­ple of lit­tle AC units on Ama­zon, and one of the concierge ladies came in and gave it to him when he was eat­ing his meal. He was ask­ing guys if they needed one. He bought a few.’’

The Wi-Fi, as one would ex­pect, has strug­gled to keep up with the hun­dreds of NHL play­ers try­ing to con­nect at once.

‘‘There’s at least 10 of us that brought an Xbox or PlayS­ta­tion, and we’ve all been play­ing a lot of Call of Duty to­gether,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘You’ve got six teams all do­ing the same thing. Some­times it gets pretty tough to play on the in­ter­net when there’s that many peo­ple on it.’’

The hic­cups seemed more like sources of amuse­ment than com­plaints, though.

‘‘At the end of the day, a ho­tel room is a ho­tel room,’’ Delia said. ‘‘Plus or mi­nus a few ameni­ties here or there, it still isn’t your own home. It’s re­ally not a huge fo­cal point.’’

Lounge

Ev­ery team has des­ig­nated lounge ar­eas in their ho­tel and at the arena, with the arena lounge the more plush of the two.

‘‘We have the Ping-Pong ta­ble, there’s a golf sim­u­la­tor just out­side of it, there’s a bunch of couches and TVs, video games,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘It’s fun to get some twoon-two Ping-Pong or get four or five guys play­ing on the sim­u­la­tor.”

‘‘I joked with some of the guys: ‘It’d be fun if there was a wine-and-paint night or a pot­tery-throw­ing class,’ ’’ Delia said.

Cag­giula, who lived in Ed­mon­ton for two years, misses pa­tron­iz­ing his fa­vorite restau­rants in the city. But the Hawks’ catered food op­tions are oth­er­wise the same as usual.

‘‘Fish, chicken, steaks, pasta, pota­toes, all sorts of dif­fer­ent veg­gies, salad,’’ he said. ‘‘The only dif­fer­ence is, we’re not al­lowed to grab the food our­selves. We have to have some­body grab the food for us from be­hind a lit­tle plex­i­glass-type thing.’’

Game days

The NHL part­nered with CLEAR, the same soft­ware of­ten used in air­port se­cu­rity lines, to screen play­ers when they ar­rive at the arena each day.

‘‘[You an­swer] a quick se­ries of ques­tions, maybe eight to 10, that ask you how you’re feel­ing, if you have any symp­toms or any­thing like that,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘You show that to a lit­tle ma­chine in the lobby or at the rink. It scans your face, and then it scans your fore­head and takes your tem­per­a­ture. It gives you a green light or a red light.’’

Once in­side, the Hawks’ game-day rou­tines are largely nor­mal.

‘‘The only thing that was a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent was when we were play­ing soc­cer and warm­ing up be­fore the game, we had to wear a mask,” Cag­giula said. “That got you out of breath pretty quickly.’’

The ac­tual game ex­pe­ri­ence is ob­vi­ously the most strange part of the bub­ble, with all 18,500 seats in Rogers Place tarped over or left empty.

The Hawks have talked ex­ten­sively about the im­pact of no crowd noise. With­out it, ev­ery­one on the ice — both teams and the ref­er­ees — eas­ily can hear ev­ery quip said around the rink. The in­evitabil­ity of curse words prompted the NHL to put its TV feeds on five-sec­ond de­lay.

‘‘They might need a lit­tle bit longer than five sec­onds,’’ Cag­giula joked. ‘‘It does get heated out there. I catch my­self say­ing stuff . . . . It’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see what hap­pens with that.’’

Alone time

Once back in their ho­tel rooms, Cag­giula and Delia rely on the en­ter­tain­ment op­tions they packed in their suit­cases.

Cag­giula is read­ing a book about Tiger Woods. Delia is watch­ing ed­u­ca­tional videos on Mas­ter­class, a web­site where pro­fes­sion­als give tu­to­ri­als on their fields. His fa­vorite sub­jects in­clude cook­ing, gar­den­ing, in­te­rior de­sign, even poker.

All the while, they’re try­ing to stay in touch with their fam­i­lies — Delia’s girl­friend gave birth to son An­der­son in June, and Cag­giula’s fi­ancee is preg­nant with their first child — and fight off bore­dom.

‘‘I don’t want to miss a sec­ond with my son,’’ Delia said. ‘‘Just in the short time I’ve been gone, it’s like, ‘My God, he’s get­ting big­ger.’ He has more fa­cial ex­pres­sions, and he’s start­ing to smile. It’s tough to miss out on that, but thank­fully you do have Face­Time.’’

‘‘I have a lit­tle bit of ADHD,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘I’ve got to find some­thing to do all the time, or else I get bored re­ally quickly. But you’ve got to find ways to cre­ate your own fun.’’

The Hawks hope to cre­ate a cul­ture where that fun hap­pens as a group.

‘‘It’s go­ing to come down to who can be a close-knit team,’’ Cag­giula said. ‘‘If we can find some time to spend with our team­mates and get to know each other even more and have a blast with each other off the ice, that’s go­ing to trans­late on the ice, as well.’’

BLACK­HAWKS

Collin Delia (left in top photo, with Ni­co­las Beaudin) plays Ping-Pong and video games to pass time.

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