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COVID-19: Daily NHL testing removal of fully vaccinated ‘long overdue’

Notebook: Veteran blueliner Luke Schenn, coach Bruce Boudreau relieved policy changing after Canucks ‘lost good players for no apparent reason’

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Luke Schenn is accustomed to tests of skill and will on the ice.

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The Vancouver Canucks’ defenceman has also had to endure the mental strain and uncertainty of daily testing to ensure that he doesn’t test positive for COVID-19.  

Schenn was added to the National Hockey League protocol list Dec. 12 with a positive result for the aggressive and fast-spreading Omicron variant that brought cold and flu-like symptoms for four days. He returned to practice on Dec. 20.

On Tuesday, Schenn applauded the league’s decision, in co-operation with the NHL Players’ Association, to stop testing fully vaccinated and asymptomatic players on a daily basis after the All-Star Game break as case counts diminish.

The National Football League adopted similar measures on Jan. 22 and the National Basketball Association decided to stop testing fully vaccinated players before its season started in October.

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“I think it’s great and it’s good to test when you have symptoms,” said Schenn. “We’re probably the only profession in the world to test every day. Obviously, we’re still going to have to test going across the (U.S.) border.  

“We’re in contact with a lot of different people and travelling and everyone wants to be safe and healthy. With all the road games we’ve been playing, and a majority of them in the U.S., guys are sometimes just holding their breath and hoping they can get home instead of sitting there (in quarantine) with no symptoms.  

“But to be testing every day, and sometimes when you don’t have symptoms, I know the guys have been looking forward to this for a while. It’s a good step for everyone.”

Bruce Boudreau had a healthy lineup in just one of his first 20 games behind the Canucks bench, which made the club’s 12-4-4 mark remarkable. He understood the initial daily testing rationale as the virus quickly spread, but not what it eventually did to his lineup. Players showed no signs of symptoms but tested positive and were subjected to various and confusing quarantine rules crossing the U.S. border.

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“It’s long overdue,” said Boudreau. “I’m glad we’re going to it because our last five guys in protocol had no symptoms. We lost good players for no apparent reason. If a guy is sick, and you can see that he’s sick, absolutely test him and make sure he stays away.

“But if you’re not sick and have no symptoms, I think everybody concerned will be very happy that we can go on with life and not have to test.”

Boudreau won’t miss getting a test swab up his nostril.

“After the first 15 or 16 times, you sort of get used to it, and you just roll with the punches,” he added. “It became part of the morning routine. You have breakfast and you get tested.”

The new protocols include updated recommendations for masks — N95 or KN95 instead of cloth — and no testing of close contacts.

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Been there, done that matters

It became known as the Schenn-O-Meter.

When Schenn delivered crunching hits during his 18 games with the Canucks in the 2018-19 season, it became a social media obsession to chart each blow by the big blueliner. Schenn had a dozen hits Monday in a 3-1 win at Chicago to match career and franchise marks.  

The last time he levelled the opposition to such a degree was March 24, 2019 at Rogers Arena. It was the lone highlight of a 5-0 loss to Columbus.

Schenn also scored an empty-net goal Monday — a 161-foot wrist shot to alleviate late-game pressure as the Blackhawks pressed for the equalizer — for his second goal of the season. He also scored Dec. 1 at Ottawa.

“He’s the first defenceman to score a goal since I’ve been here — to me he’s Bobby Orr,” said Boudreau with a chuckle, who couldn’t hide his glee at the bench when Schenn wired his long-bomb sealer. “Whether he plays great or mediocre or what have you, the one thing you know about Luke is that he gives you everything he’s got every night.

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“He had nine hits after two periods (Monday) and was physical and a leader. And that’s what you need, especially when you’re playing with (Quinn) Hughes. He’s a real good complement to him and protects his teammates.”

The significance of all this is not lost on Boudreau.

The well-travelled Alex Chiasson marked his 600th career game Monday by opening the scoring with his first even-strength goal of the season. For the Canucks to keep pushing for a playoff spot, they need those who have been there and done that in Schenn, 32, and Chiasson, 31.

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“Those two guys are special,” said Boudreau. “Luke plays so many minutes and goes unheralded and has won two Cups when people thought he was done. Chiasson never complains. He sometimes plays less than 10 minutes a night and does whatever I want him to do.

“It says something about determination and a love of the game and the will to play and never getting down. Chiasson has won a Cup (with Washington in 2017-18), came here on a PTO (professional tryout) and to me that would be very frustrating as a player. Some guys can handle it, others can’t and it’s a feather in his cap.”

bkuzma@postmedia.com

twitter.com/benkuzma


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