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GARRIOCH: Coach D.J. Smith says the Senators who had COVID-19 are fully recovered

Senators coach D.J. Smith
Senators coach D.J. Smith

The Ottawa Senators stricken by the novel coronavirus have fully recovered.

That’s the word from coach D.J. Smith after a video call with the Ottawa media Wednesday afternoon, and he noted there may actually be a silver lining in what the club went through.

If the Senators needed a wakeup call, they certainly got it when five unnamed players, a member of the club’s staff and TSN 1200 colour analyst Gord Wilson all had bouts with COVID-19 after Ottawa returned from a road trip through California on March 12.

“Seeing it first-hand, it’s important you see that this disease doesn’t spare anyone and it doesn’t matter, as you see, with all the people in the world … it doesn’t matter — actors, actresses, rich, poor — you’ve got to make sure you stay safe,” said Smith, speaking for the first time since the NHL went on pause following the club’s 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings March 11 at the Staples Center.

“I’m really glad that everybody in our organization and on that plane is now doing well, but it’s certainly a scary time. Yeah, it hit us, but at the same time it probably saved a lot of us because unless you see it up close that quickly, we probably got a little bit of a jump on this.”

Smith is hopeful the worst is behind the organization.

“The good news is that everyone who had it didn’t have horrible symptoms (like) what we’re seeing on TV and some of the people that have really struggled,” said Smith. “Some guys didn’t feel well, but being athletes, they all go through it and they’re all on the other side of it now.”

The Senators flew to California on March 6 to prepare to play the San Jose Sharks the next night. The Santa Clara health authorities issued a warning that the games should be played with no fans in the stands, but the Sharks went ahead with the game anyway. Looking back on it now, Smith admits it was different.

“In San Jose, it was kind of weird, we got onto Santana Row and there wasn’t really a lot of people out,” Smith said. “Guys usually like to try and go for a walk and dinner — at that point no one knew what we know now. Guys were aware, but I don’t think there’s any way of telling that it would have gotten to this level, certainly for us, anyway.

“But the fear hadn’t set in. I mean, San Jose was a little bit lighter, but when we were in Anaheim everything was normal and everybody in Anaheim and L.A. was living life as normal. You’d see the odd person with a mask on in L.A. at the end of the trip, but the world as we know it today was nowhere near it back then. That’s just part of it, is learning.”

Smith said he’s learned a lot about the virus over of the last month.

“It looks like more and more people are trying their best to slow this and to get this figured out,” Smith said. “My opinion has changed, when you ask that question, I realize way more today how serious it is, the way it’s spreading, the way it’s hitting towns, people and especially the elderly.

“There’s seven old-age homes (in Windsor) that have COVID-19 in them. That’s a big thing here right now, and if your mother, father, grandfather or grandmother was in those buildings right now, you’d realize just how scary it is.”

It turns out the Senators took part in what was the final NHL game — and actually the final pro sports game — before the league went on pause when they lost to the Kings. Smith had an awareness that the team may be cutting its trip short and heading back to Ottawa the next day.

“The world is different for sure than it was 20 years ago with guys having phones, social media and all that,” Smith said. “Guys were aware that an NBA player tested positive that afternoon, but us being out in the West we were ahead of it and there was some questions whether we were going to play. They weren’t sure. We listened to President (Donald) Trump on TV that night.

“It certainly was a different atmosphere than any other game I’ve been part of and we just waited for direction from the league. Because we were out on the West (Coast) and we were behind, that was probably the only reason we got to read what had happened in the NBA. Once the NBA cancelled their games, we knew we wouldn’t be far behind or right there with them.”

Smith is back home in Tecumseh, Ont., a suburb located just outside of Windsor, with his wife, Christie Bezaire, his son, Colton, and their three-year-old Brock. They returned there after self-isolating in Ottawa for 15 days. Smith has set up a Crossfit gym in his garage where they’ve started to get Colton ready for his first OHL training camp in August with the OHL’s London Knights.

He was taken by the Knights No. 25 overall in last weekend’s draft and Smith has plenty of respect for Mark and Dale Hunter. A pause like this isn’t easy on Smith, because anybody who has been around him knows that he’s a high-energy person who doesn’t like to sit still.  He’s up most days by 6 a.m. with Brock, “gets some cartoons on” after feeding him and then heads to work out on the equipment he brought home.

Yes, Smith and the family are into a routine, but like many of us it all feels the same.

“We eat breakfast, have some coffee, talk to some people and then have about (90) minute Crossfit workouts either in the driveway or garage,” Smith said. “I usually take the three-year-old on a drive around the neighbourhood just to let him open up the window, get on the phone, call Pierre and see what goes on in the hockey world, and then have dinner.

“We’ve been changing programs on Netflix, going back and forth, and then we do it all again the next day.”

Twitter: @sungarrioch

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