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Hockey

How a chicken coop is helping four NHL players stay connected amid coronavirus shutdown

NHL players video chat coronavirus
NHL players, clockwise from top left, Logan Couture, Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar and Marc-Andre Fleury stay in touch via video chat during the coronavirus outbreak.
(Jack Harris / Los Angeles Times)

It started when Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf mentioned his chicken coop.

After that, the conversation during a 30-minute video conference call with Getzlaf, Kings captain Anze Kopitar, San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture and Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury went all over the place.

There was talk of book clubs and beach excursions, home gyms and home schooling kids. The players swapped stories of fatherhood and family life, the sole focus for each ever since the NHL’s season was suspended more than two weeks ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like longtime friends reuniting over a summer campfire, they didn’t have to be teammates to enjoy one another’s company. Even in a video chat, during which they answered presubmitted questions from reporters, the group re-created the type of camaraderie made suddenly less common during this health crisis.

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Getzlaf’s poultry plan produced the most pertinent example.

The chicken coop idea originated several days earlier when Getzlaf’s family ran out of eggs. Rather than a trip to the store, they borrowed fresh-laid eggs from a neighbor in their Orange County community who had a backyard hen house of their own. Instantly inspired, Getzlaf went to work on building one on his property.

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Three days in, he already has a wooden frame in place and plenty more planks of wood stacked in his backyard. When Getzlaf showed it off during the call Friday, the others couldn’t help but crack a smile.

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“Impressive,” Couture said.

“That’s good,” echoed Fleury.

“A coop-and-a-half!” added Kopitar, laughing the hardest at his Southland counterpart.

On the whole, of course, this unforeseen break hasn’t been easy on any of the veterans. Fleury’s Golden Knights were in the middle of a playoff push when play stopped on March 12. Kopitar and Getzlaf were looking forward to a final stretch of games for their rebuilding teams.

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“Mentally for me, it’s pretty hard,” Kopitar said. “Because you don’t know whether you’re starting in the next couple of weeks or next couple months. You’re trying to stay loose somewhat and keep moving.”

Staying occupied, however, has hardly been a challenge. Couture started an online book club that was posted to the Sharks’ social media accounts. Kopitar, Getzlaf and Fleury, meanwhile, have all been busy making arrangements for their children’s schooling to continue at home.

“My wife is grinding right now,” Getzlaf said of his spouse, Paige, with whom he has four children. “She’s got a full school setup upstairs. They’re doing some of this stuff online now. But she’s got to run the whole thing.”

Kopitar, a father of two, chimed in: “We had our first Zoom [online video] class session today, so that killed off 45 minutes.”

Staying in shape has been another unique challenge. Mountain biking has been one of Fleury’s exercises of choice. Couture has a Peloton stationary bike in the mail. Kopitar has split his workouts between his South Bay home and the nearby beach. (L.A. County announced Friday that it had closed all beaches.)

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“Other than that, it’s pretty much just body-weight and core stuff for me,” Kopitar said. “Just trying to get through and stay as active as you can.”

Regular-season routines have been hardest to replicate, the rhythms of a season and the relationship between teammates proving difficult to maintain in what could be a months-long hiatus. Kopitar did say texts in the Kings’ roster-wide group chat have been nonstop of late and had an immediate answer when asked which players he would most and least like to be quarantined with.

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“I’m going to pick one guy for both scenarios, and we all know that’s Drew Doughty,” Kopitar said. “Being around the guy every day, there’s literally something new every second.”

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But there has been far less of that lately. Because when hockey stopped, so did all those fleeting moments around the rink, the fond little memories accumulated over the course of a season.

It’s partially why, even with the Kings out of the playoff race, Kopitar would still like to finish the regular season if possible; why he and the other three players on the call Friday clicked into conversation so effortlessly; why each looked so happy to have even a small slice of hockey back again.

“At this point, it’s hard on everybody,” Kopitar said. “It’s not just hockey-related. Now it’s life-related on what is going to happen in the next month or two. It’s a big question mark. At this point, you’re probably just better off going day by day and not having to think about too far ahead. Try to stay as positive as you can.”


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