Blackwood undecided on COVID-19 vaccination for Devils

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NEWARK, N.J. — Mackenzie Blackwood is the only player for the New Jersey Devils not to be vaccinated for COVID-19.

“I have a couple health concerns, health reasons why I’m working through it a little slower,” the goalie said Tuesday. “I just want to check off a couple of boxes and not rush to do it.”

Blackwood missed six games in January in NHL COVID-19 protocol. The 24-year-old is one of eight NHL goalies to play at least 82 games the past two seasons and finished 14-17-4 with a 3.04 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and one shutout in 35 games (all starts) last season.

Blackwood had surgery on his ankle during the offseason. He played two periods of a scrimmage Tuesday and said he has felt good in training camp.

“I’m not trying to be a distraction while I work through it,” Blackwood said. “I’m lucky to have great teammates who support you no matter what, whether they agree or disagree with what’s going on. I’m really thankful that I have support people around me. Everyone’s been great in allowing me to be a little bit slower working through it than they have, but I’m fortunate they’re very understanding and patient.”

NHL COVID-19 protocol for this season states, “Unvaccinated individuals may be subject to restrictions related to their ability to cross the Canadian/U.S. border, which may ultimately limit an unvaccinated individual’s ability to attend or participate in NHL games or practices.”

Unless restrictions by Canada’s government are lifted, Blackwood would not be permitted to travel to play in games in the country if he remains unvaccinated. New Jersey plays nine games in Canada this season, the first at the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 3.

“I have not decided one way or the other that I’m absolutely not doing it … I’m taking a little bit of extra time making sure that things are good before I do,” Blackwood said.

Coach Lindy Ruff is taking a day-by-day approach with Blackwood.

“We’re going to approach that (games when Blackwood might not be available) when we come to that hurdle, but we haven’t come to that hurdle yet,” Ruff said. “Doesn’t change anything at all for me. We’re going to follow protocol and play by the rules and we’ll do whatever it takes to get him between the pipes and ready to play.”

Jonathan Bernier is Blackwood’s backup. The 33-year-old signed a two-year contract with New Jersey on July 28 after going 9-11-1 with a 2.99 GAA and .914 save percentage in 24 games (23 starts) last season with the Detroit Red Wings.

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