This hasn’t been the easiest of holiday seasons for New York Islanders star Mathew Barzal.
The first-line center was back at practice this week following a 10-day quarantine period in Detroit — testing positive shortly before the Islanders’ game against the Red Wings — that forced him to miss three games. That number might have been even larger had the NHL not extended its holiday break after postponing 64 games.
“I stayed in Detroit for a little while and when I was able to come back, I did,” Barzal said, who skated with the Islanders on Sunday and Monday. “Being back on the ice the last two days with the team, my whole emotion and energy was sparked. It was tough being 10 days by yourself, isolated.
“It sucks. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. I’m thrilled to be back with the boys.”
While he didn’t go into specifics of how the virus impacted him, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz admitted that Barzal “hit a wall pretty early” during his first practice session on Sunday. However, he looked “fine” on Monday.
The Islanders collected three of a possible six points (1-1-1) during Barzal’s absence, which was the team’s most glaring absence to the virus in a season that has seen over 70% of its skaters test positive for COVID.
On Sunday, the Islanders placed Oliver Wahlstrom, Cal Clutterbuck, Anthony Beauvillier, and Zach Parise in COVID protocols while activating Barzal.
The 24-year-old Barzal has been the Islanders’ most skilled playmaker since debuting with the team in 2017. He has five goals and 12 assists (17 points) in 23 games this season and was in the running to represent Team Canada at the 2022 Winter Olympics this February in Beijing.
But during Barzal’s quarantine, the league and players’ association agreed not to send NHL players to the Olympics given the uncertainty surrounding the virus, especially with it being in China.
“I had a feeling that it was coming. Obviously, it sucks,” Barzal said. “As a league, I think going to the Olympics would’ve been great for the NHL.”
It’s the second straight Winter Games that there will be no NHL representation where the younger generation of players like Barzal, Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, and Toronto Maple Leafs sniper Auston Matthews has yet to play for their countries.
“I think the talent on display would’ve been the best ever,” Barzal said. “It’s unfortunate as a sport and as a league. But going to China with the quarantine… there were a lot of weird and odd rules and whatnot so it would’ve been difficult.”