VANCOUVER — Travis Green will coach the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday, but No. 1 goalie Thatcher Demko will be one of five players unavailable when they return to play after an 18-day pause caused by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Vancouver has not played since March 24 and had 22 players and four staff members, including Green, test positive for the coronavirus.
“There was a time just a couple days ago where I really didn’t believe I would be, so thankful that I’ve been able to come and be at the rink the last few days [to watch practice] and get on the ice today and be good to coach tomorrow,” Green said. “It was important for me personally. There has been a lot of people that have gone through a lot and are coming back to play and I wanted to make sure I was there. If I didn’t feel like I could do it, though, I wouldn’t do it.”
Defenseman Nate Schmidt and forward Jake Virtanen are the only two players still listed as unavailable due to the NHL COVID-19 protocol, a number that was at 19 players on April 11. Demko, forward Tyler Motte and defenseman Olli Juolevi have been removed from the protocol list but haven’t recovered enough to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday (7 p.m., SN, TVAS, NHL.TV).
“Hopefully they’ll be ready to play on Tuesday [against Toronto],” Green said.
The Canucks were coming off a six-day break when the first two positive tests among players forced the postponement of a March 31 game against the Calgary Flames.
Vancouver was scheduled to return against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday and play the Maple Leafs on Saturday, but doctors from the team, the NHL and the NHL Players’ Association determined they needed more time.
The extra two days helped Green recover too. He was on the ice running practice Saturday for the first time and expects to be behind the bench Sunday.
The Canucks, who had nine games postponed during the outbreak, are scheduled to play 19 games in 32 days to finish the 56-game regular season, which is now scheduled to end May 19 in the Scotia North Division. They return with four home games: Sunday and Tuesday against Toronto, and Thursday and Saturday against the Ottawa Senators.
“As far as expectations I know there’s a lot of people out there, lots of talk of ‘How can you expect them to do this or that?'” Green said. “We’re here to win tomorrow and that’s our mindset, that’s how our group feels, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Vancouver (16-18-3) is sixth in the seven-team Scotia North Division, 12 points behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens with four games in hand. The top four teams will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Center Brandon Sutter, who was among the players that contracted COVID-19, compared the team’s return on Sunday to the first game of a season, but doesn’t see any reason the Canucks can’t still compete for a playoff spot.
“Your thought is ‘Am I ready to play?’ And then you get out there and start skating and pick it up pretty quick,” Sutter said. “We expect ourselves to be competitive, just like we were throughout the season. We played a lot of good hockey leading up to our break, and the expectation for us is to come out and pick that up again. I don’t see any reason right now why that isn’t possible and the way we’ve changed in four or five days is substantial, so I’m feeling confidence in our group.”