Sabres' Eichel is self-quarantining in Buffalo

NHL Atlantic Division Conference Call.
Photo credit Photo: Paul Hamilton (@pham1717)
By WGR 550 SportsRadio
Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Before the Sabres left for Montreal on March 11, the team was already practicing social distancing with interviews and keeping the media at least six feet away. At that time, things were changing by the minute, and it continued into Wednesday.

Jack Eichel participated in an NHL video call and a Sabres conference call on Monday. He said they knew things were going to happen fast once the Utah Jazz had a player test positive for the coronavirus, “We saw the news from the NBA the night before, so we were watching TV and TSN came on and said they suspended their season. So we were sitting there wondering whether or not we were going to play the next night and how long until we would follow suit with them."

When the players woke up on March 12, they still had a game to play in Montreal. Eichel said that also changed quickly, “We went about the morning normally and then 15 minutes before our bus for the morning skate, we got the message to stay in the meal room and we were going to have a team meeting. So we hung around for the day, then we got the news that the league was going to suspend play and we came home.”

Players left from the airport to begin self-quarantining. Buffalo’s captain said it really sunk in a few days later, “I think when we came back from Montreal on Thursday, I definitely knew the situation was a serious one, but I really think on Saturday when it just started becoming a lot more real about what was going to happen over the next few weeks. Then I think we kind of realized how much we didn’t know about the situation and when that happened, it was my 'come to' moment and just how serious all this is.”

Eichel has stayed in Buffalo because he felt it was the safest way of handling things. He has a new house and is comfortable there. As far as back home in Boston, his mom is a nurse, but Eichel is glad she’s not in the middle of things, “My mom does work at Boston Medical Center, but prior to the outbreak, my dad had shoulder replacement surgery, so my mom took a month of paid leave, which is really lucky. I wouldn’t want her going in with such a high risk.”

Eichel said he has a chef and between him and his girlfriend, they do not do any take-out for meals.

Eichel would love to play the final 13 games of the season, but that’s not what he’s thinking about, “We really don’t know what tomorrow holds, never mind a month from now, so it’s tough to predict the hockey aspect of life because I don’t think the world knows what’s going to happen in a few weeks. So we’re just focusing at the real issue at hand, which is what’s going on in the world with the pandemic.

“I love hockey and it means so much to me, but I think it’s been put on the back burner. A lot of my thoughts are going towards my family and myself, and the people I care about, and all the people that are dealing with this because there’s so much more at stake right now than hockey games.”

Many NHL players would like the playoffs just to start with no more regular season games. Eichel said, “I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to be a part of the continued games. It’s tough to imagine this season going on without finishing, but it’s also tough to imagine a playoffs after a long break like this.

“I can’t imagine the NHL really knows much right now about what the future holds for us just because I don’t really think the world knows a whole lot about what’s going to happen.”

The Sabres are not in playoff position, or even striking distance. Buffalo is 13 points behind in the division and 13 points behind in the Wild Card race. They could win their final 13 games and still likely wouldn’t make it. Eichel said, “It’s unfortunate that we haven’t put ourselves in a good position. I think when you look at our group, I think we’ve taken a lot of strides this year, so I think we looked at these last [13] games as an opportunity to continue to build our culture and build our team identity and to build towards the future.”

Just in case the season start up again, Eichel said he’s trying to stay ready, “I have a little gym in my house. I’ve been doing video calls with different trainers of mine, whether it’s a Pilates instructor or people I work with over the summer, just trying to stay sharp in case we have to play.”  

Eichel has tried to stay in touch with his teammates, but members of the Sabres organization have been in contact with him, “They’ve been trying to stay in contact with the players, whether that’s our performance staff or our strength coaches, they’ve been constantly checking in on us and giving us a lot of different tools.

“Jason [Botterill] has been in contact with us frequently as has Ralph [Krueger] as they’re making sure everyone is healthy, seeing how everyone is feeling, seeing how everybody’s day-to-day is going and just checking in making sure everyone is doing well.”

For the NHL’s Video Call, Eichel was joined by Montreal’s Shea Weber. The defenseman said he doesn’t miss going up against the Sabres captain, “[He has] the speed and puck protection and [he] can make you look silly at anytime, so I definitely don’t miss trying to protect against that.”

Like many of us are, Eichel is looking for things to do as we stay home. He said music has been a way to pass the time, “I’ve listened to a lot of Stone Temple Pilots lately, so I have the Stone Temple Pilots MTV unplugged in New York City. I have two or three Stones albums as well. I have a lot of good albums like Marvin Gaye and Fleetwood Mac.”

Eichel has also been binge watching a few things, “I’ve been watching The O.C., obviously I saw The Tiger King and I play a little bit of video games, but I only play Madden.” Eichel said he always uses the New Orleans Saints, so he hasn’t traded Tom Brady to Tampa Bay.

During both conference calls, Eichel never put hockey ahead of what’s going on right now.

“I think with a situation like this it’s important in the world it’s important to remember we’re all in this together, the end is unknown, but at some point things are going to get better and daily life is going to comeback, but for now it’s important to do the right things and really take this serious because there are some serious consequences to not doing the right things and taking the right precautions and I just hope everyone is in a good frame of mind with being around loved ones and understanding that we’re going to get through this and I look forward to seeing everyone back at the KeyBank Center whenever that game is.”