COLUMBUS — John Tortorella, the Blue Jackets’ head coach, is puttering about his barn while tending to his rescue horses and dogs.
Jarmo Kekalainen, the team’s general manager, is grinding through workouts at home, just like his players, uncertain of the path ahead for his team, the NHL and the world at large during the coronavirus pandemic.
And Nick Foligno, the Jackets’ captain, is helping his three young children discover their imagination, passing time during a self-quarantine by making up games to play and logging hours of knee hockey.
He’s also helping his wife, Janelle, as “principal, teacher, lunch man and janitor,” for his 6-year-old daughter Milana’s new schoolinside their home.
This is social distancing, NHL-style.
“It’s frustrating, but it’s frustrating for everybody in the world, not just hockey players,” said Foligno, who is a week into following the NHL’s recommendation that players self-quarantine for a 14-day period ending March 27.
“I know we’re in the media a lot, so people want to know about us, but it’s got to be frustrating for everyone,” he added. “I mean, it’s changed everyone’s lives. I’m part of that and I feel for everybody because you’ve literally gone from one day, when everything was normal, to complete and utter lockout of everything.”
For hockey players, that includes the barring from team facilities for all except injured players who must continue daily rehabilitation. It also means a lot of downtime, the majority of which isn’t spent cranking out home workouts.
Foligno has a gym area in his home, which helps him stay in shape and release pent-up frustrations, but other Blue Jackets players dwell in Downtown apartments. To them, self-quarantine means long hours in relatively cramped confines and decisions like whether to use the elevator or stairs.
Players are, however, permitted to wait out the league’s hiatus and self-quarantine at their offseason homes.
“I don’t blame those guys for wanting to go back to summer homes, where maybe they’re better set up or where maybe they have access to more land just to move around,” said Foligno, who said he has left his home only once, to get groceries and gasoline, since the NHL announced its stoppage on March 12. “If I was stuck in an apartment, I’d be losing my mind right now.”
Instead, Foligno is enjoying a lot of family time at a point on the calendar when he’s usually laser-focused on getting the Blue Jackets into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“March is a time where I’m usually gearing up to focus on the playoffs, so my mind … it’s not that it’s not with my family, but there’s always time throughout a season where it’s just a little more dialed into your job,” Foligno said. “So it’s been really fun in that way.”
All three of Foligno’s children had health issues last season, ranging from 4-year-old son Landon suffering a broken leg to Milana needing a heart valve replacement and 2-year-old son Hudson battling a case of pneumonia.
“I think I’ve learned from a lot of (things), so I told my wife, ‘Let’s make the most of this,’ ” Foligno said. “This is time that we may never get again, because our lives are going to get so busy after this. So let’s enjoy sitting around playing board games or just making up games.”
His coach, meanwhile, is whiling away the hours in his barn.
Tortorella and his wife, Christine, were tending to their rescue animals last week during an interview on Sportsnet, a Canadian broadcasting outlet. As Tortorella chatted with the three co-hosts, including former NHL GM Brian Burke, the sound of birds chirping nearly drowned out his words at one point.
“Do you have birds or are you outside?” Burke asked.
“I’m in my barn,” Tortorella replied. “You know, Burkey, I have three rescue horses, four rescue (pit bulls) … I’ve got stuff flying in this barn all over the place. This is what my wife and I do. If it’s not hockey, this is what we do.”
What Tortorella doesn’t have flying around is any idea where things are headed with the remainder of the season or the ongoing health crisis.
“I just don’t know where it all goes, how long it’s going to be,” Tortorella said. “I don’t think anybody knows what’s going to happen. As I watch the news daily and hear about where these pockets (of outbreaks) are and where it’s all going to go, it’s hard to really pinpoint what we should do.”
Like the rest of North America, no one in hockey saw this comingat least, not this rapidly or to this extent.
“You see everything changing so quickly,” said Kekalainen, who huffed and puffed into a cellphone during a workout last week. “You can basically see that nobody could anticipate what was happening and how quickly this was evolving.
“We’re going to keep monitoring it, keep evolving and do everything we can to prevent the spread of the disease.”
In the meantime, they’re all going to keep themselves busy.
“My kids ask me every day, ‘When’s your next game?’ ” Foligno said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Uh, I don’t know! I don’t think you realize Dad’s going to probably be here for a while.’”