Amid The NHL's Pause Due to COVID-19, Blue Jackets Captain Nick Foligno Said Health and Safety Is The Top Priority

By Rob Mixer on April 1, 2020 at 3:00 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno (71) skates on the ice after being named the first star of the game after defeating the Ottawa Senators in the overtime period at Nationwide Arena.
Aaron Doster – USA TODAY Sports

Mar. 12, 2020 was a strange day – one that Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno won't soon forget.

The Blue Jackets were (are?) in the throes of a break-neck playoff race in the Eastern Conference, sitting in a wild-card spot but not having the luxury of games in hand. On deck after a road trip through western Canada was a date with the Pittsburgh Penguins, a huge divisional game for Columbus as its regular season ticked away.

And then, Ohio governor Mike DeWine stepped up to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. 

Initially, games were to be played without spectators per DeWine's order. After it quickly became clear that any event would be a health risk, period, the NHL followed the NBA's lead and suspended its season. Foligno and teammates were preparing to play the game as scheduled, but as has been the case so often lately, things changed fast.

"At first, you're like 'is this necessary?'" Foligno told Carpenter & Rothman on 97.1 The Fan, regarding DeWine's spectator ban. "I'm thankful now that he stepped up and mandated what he did. It's a huge four-point game, and we're in the midst of not worrying about anything but ourselves. This is the time of year I'm gearing up to play in the playoffs. To be told you're not going to play in front of shocked (us). Everyone was kind of anxiously anticipating what it would be like."

The anxiety soon turned to an understanding, Foligno said, because the public health risk was obvious. 

"It showed us how serious this was becoming and how quickly the landscape was changing every half hour," Foligno said. "I'm thankful we did our part. It made people realize how important this is for everybody."

As for when the NHL may resume its operation, no one truly knows. The United States has not yet reached its projected "peak" for COVID-19 infections, according to data from the CDC, and the league will not make an estimation until it knows the long-term outlook of the outbreak. Teams have reportedly been asked for arena availability into July and August, but the composition of the season is still unclear.

Foligno said he and his teammates are doing what they can to stay sharp, but there are greater and more pressing concerns.

"In this situation, no one cares about anything other than our health right now," Foligno said. "We need to make sure we keep that in perspective no matter what. 

"I was debating whether I put the dish soap in the basement and start skating around (laughs). It's just trying to stay ready in an uncertain world, and everyone is in that position regardless if you're a hockey player. Your concern is the healthy and safety of everybody. It's hard to think about hockey right now, to be honest with you."