TookOS ANGELES – The Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs took their time reaching their US destinations before Game 3 in their first-round playoff series.
Instead of taking a direct charter flight to California, the Oilers opted to fly to Vancouver after their Game 2 win on Wednesday, spend the night in a hotel, then take a bus at the border on Thursday morning from Bellingham, Wash., to California. prior to take off. ,
The Leafs also crossed the US by bus and flew from Buffalo, NY to Tampa, Fla., on Thursday.
When asked about the decision, Toronto forward Jason Spaeza replied with a laugh.
“It’s above my pay grade,” the 38-year-old said. “I board the bus when they ask me to board the bus. I get on the plane when they tell me to get on the plane.
“As long as it all leads to the arena, I’m very happy.”
The unique journey allowed both the teams to evade the COVID-19 test. Current restrictions require people to enter states via air to provide a negative COVID-19 test, something that does not require crossing a land border.
Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said the long travel day was the smartest move for his group and the players were involved in choosing the itinerary.
“I think what you want to do is make the best decision for your group and that was one that we put a lot of thought into,” he said Friday night after the team arrived at his hotel in downtown L.A. “It was excellent today and we’re getting ready for Game 3 tomorrow.”
The Oilers have the only non-vaccinated player in the NHL playoffs: Josh Archibald, whose cardiologist was able to obtain medical exemption for the 29-year-old forward due to a heart condition known as myocarditis.
Archibald played only eight games during the regular season, but is available in the playoffs on either side of the boundary and was in the lineup for Game 2 when Edmonton leveled their series against the Kings.
The team has not decided whether it will make the same trip if the Series returns to California for 6 games. The best-of-seven matchup is currently tied at 1-1.
The Leafs and Oilers aren’t the only pro sports team opting to bus on the border amid current COVID regulations.
During their first-round NBA playoff series against the Toronto Raptors, the 76ers settled for Buffalo before continuing to Philadelphia.
The Blue Jays on their current swing used the same travel strategy on their previous road trips to Cleveland and Houston. The club said it would decide “on a trip-to-trip basis” whether to run a bus across the border.
The Red Sox reportedly returned to Boston via bus after a four-match series in Toronto in late April.
“The biggest thing was really leading the NBA and MLB teams that are traveling across the border,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. “I think the biggest thing at this point of the year is really to do everything we can to avoid any false positives or anything that could happen that would affect our group.”
Leafs captain John Tavares said the alternate arrangement was “a slight wrinkle”, but the team arrived in Florida at about the same time it would be by direct flight.
“We’ve heard of some teams in other sports,” he said. “We talked a little bit between the group last week and are trying to do everything we can to give us the best chance of success.”
Other NHL teams are believed to have traveled to Bellingham after games in Vancouver at the end of the NHL regular season.
Both Kings and Lightning took direct flights home.
“We didn’t cross the border by bus,” Tampa Bay coach John Cooper said Friday before Game 3 against Toronto. “Everyone passed the test.”
The Calgary Flames took a charter to Dallas on Friday morning directly before Game 3 against the Stars on Saturday.
Woodcroft said his group was not bothered by the unique logistics.
“I thought it was a really well executed day. The credit goes to the people who made it with our travel department,” he said. “The players are excited about how we travel and Live in the sunshine of California.”
The day of the visit was “a little different than usual”, said defenseman Ivan Bouchard.
When asked if he had finished Netflix during enough time in transit, he smiled.
“I’m not much of a Netflix guy,” Bouchard said. “No, I’m more of an Xbox player.”
— With files from Joshua Clipperton in Tampa and The Associated Press.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 6, 2022.
Gemma Carstens-Smith, The Canadian Press