Like the N.F.L., the N.B.A. and college sports, professional hockey has run into a slew of postponements, undermanned rosters and cancellations as leagues pushed ahead with plans to start their seasons this month during the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the N.H.L. began its season on Jan. 13, with most teams playing in their home arenas, nine games have been postponed. Thursday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and the Vegas Golden Knights was the latest, as the league said that one player and a member of the Golden Knights’ coaching staff were entering the league’s Covid-19 protocols.
Nine other games have had to be rescheduled because of postponements involving the Carolina Hurricanes and the Dallas Stars. The Stars did not begin their season until Jan. 22 because of an outbreak, and the Hurricanes’ last four games have been postponed because several players tested positive for coronavirus. More N.H.L. schedule changes are expected in the coming days.
The National Women’s Hockey League announced Thursday that the Metropolitan Riveters, one of six teams competing in a two-week bubble season in Lake Placid, N.Y., were headed home after several members of the organization tested positive for coronavirus, throwing the completion of the season into question with Thursday’s and Friday’s games postponed.
The N.W.H.L. bubble began last Saturday, with teams expected to play five games before the playoffs. The league was expecting more exposure than ever, as its semifinals and finals will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network, the first time professional women’s hockey will be shown live on a major cable network in the U.S.
A cancellation would be damaging for the league, which spent in excess of $2 million for its season in Lake Placid — according to a person with direct knowledge of bubble operations who was not authorized to speak publicly. The N.H.L. has not indicated that any prolonged stoppage is forthcoming.
In an interview this month, Theresa Chapple-McGruder, an epidemiologist in Washington whose recent work has focused on sports during the pandemic, said she was worried about athletic activities’ taking place with new strains of the virus emerging in North America.
“Until we can get it to where we have vaccination rates that lead us to herd immunity, we need to be playing in bubbles, if sports need to be occurring at all right now,” said Chapple-McGruder, who does not work with the N.H.L. or the N.W.H.L.
“You’re indoors in a cold environment, so the virus is going to live longer in the cold, and then all the heavy breathing, close contact — it’s just exactly what you need to spread the virus,” she added. “It’s similar to what we saw in the meatpacking industry, because cold helps the virus survive. Hockey is no baseball.”
According to the N.W.H.L. protocols, if a player has tested positive, that player’s team must also be tested and receive results within 24 hours. If games were played in the 48 hours before a player tested positive, officials and opposing teams must also be tested and have results within 24 hours.
The N.W.H.L. bubble protocols were created by doctors at N.Y.U.’s Langone Health system and approved by the N.W.H.L. and the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, which operates Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid. An estimated 170 league players and personnel are allowed at the site.
The Riveters last played Tuesday evening against the Minnesota Whitecaps. On Wednesday, the league announced seven hours beforehand that the Riveters would be pulled from that night’s game.
The league did not disclose how many players had tested positive or when the positive results had come back.
When asked if the Riveters would stay in Lake Placid until they tested negative, a league spokesman referred to the league’s news release, which said, “The Riveters and health officials have collaborated to bring every member of the team home in a way that ensures the safety for all parties.”
“Our team is heartbroken to not have the chance to compete for the Isobel Cup,” Riveters Coach Ivo Mocek said in a statement, “but we are aligned with the league in prioritizing the well-being of all of the players and staff.”
Before the teams’ arrival in Lake Placid, Chapple-McGruder questioned the N.W.H.L.’s plans for a bubble. She said to “create a real, actual bubble,” players should be quarantined for 10 days and tested regularly after arrival. Teams from the Northeast, Minnesota and Toronto began arriving two days before games began.
The N.W.H.L. players were supposed to be restricted to their hotel rooms if not playing or practicing, although videos surfaced on social media of players hanging out with one another while not competing. A league spokesman previously told The Times there were possible fines for breaking protocols, but the N.W.H.L. would not disclose the amounts.
A spokeswoman for the development authority said this month that the N.W.H.L. was responsible for ensuring that all protocols and guidelines were followed and that the state and local authorities would monitor compliance. On Thursday, the development authority said it had no comment when asked if its involvement would change in light of the positive tests.
Before the season started, Craig Randall, the mayor of Lake Placid, said that hosting the N.W.H.L. was “a real feather in Lake Placid’s cap.”
On Thursday afternoon, the mayor did not respond to a request for comment about the positive coronavirus tests.