In retrospect, it was a telltale sign.
On Oct. 29, both Erik Karlsson and Jake Middleton missed practice. That means the San Jose Sharks ran five defensemen, short the regular six, on the ice that morning. It was an unusual sight to miss an entire pairing in an otherwise full practice.
If it was just Karlsson missing that Friday, you might have chalked it up to a veteran’s maintenance day. But Middleton, of just 21 NHL games experience, too?
On Oct. 30, Karlsson, Middleton, five other San Jose Sharks players, and head coach Bob Boughner went into COVID protocol. The organization was forced to recall five Barracuda skaters from the AHL to replace them.
“Friday morning, I was feeling a little under the weather. I came in and took my COVID test and just told [head trainer Ray Tufts] I was going to sit out that day,” Middleton recounted today, after his first full practice since he went into protocol. “The following morning, that’s when the majority of us found out about the positive tests.”
Boughner also said that Karlsson wasn’t feeling well.
It’s been a long two weeks since then. But surprisingly, San Jose managed a 3-2-1 record with a third of their regular roster in COVID protocol.
Karlsson pointed out: “That shows that we have some depth in our organization.”
Today, Middleton, Karlsson, Timo Meier, Kevin Labanc, Matt Nieto, Radim Simek, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic were taken off COVID protocol, along with Boughner, Tufts, and head equipment manager Mike Aldrich. Sasha Chmelevski, Joel Kellman, John Leonard, Jaycob Megna, Ryan Merkley, Artemi Kniazev, and Nicolas Meloche were sent back to the AHL.
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) November 12, 2021
Neither Karlsson nor Boughner had any sense of when the Sharks were exposed.
“I don’t think anyone knows really how it does work and where you get it from and how it kind of transmits and what to stay away from,” the fully-vaccinated Karlsson offered. The entire San Jose Sharks organization is fully vaxxed.
But Karlsson, Middleton, and Boughner all paid a similar price, insofar as COVID having a definite effect on their loved ones’ lives.
Boughner shared on Wednesday that his parents, visiting from Canada, were in town when he received his positive test. He immediately checked himself into a hotel and his parents returned to Canada, fortunately safe and sound.
“I just had my girlfriend and dog living with me. We got a little small apartment in Campbell,” Middleton said. “I just had to get them a hotel for the rest of the 10 days that I was in protocol. But fortunately, she got through it fine.”
Karlsson says both his wife Melinda and his two-year-old daughter Harlow Rain tested positive. His daughter is “doing well” but his wife is still battling symptoms.
“It’s definitely not been a pleasant experience,” Karlsson said. “We’re not the only ones who unfortunately have to deal with this.”
But now, it’s back to the work — the San Jose Sharks take on the Colorado Avalanche tomorrow.
Are these Sharks, who missed the last two weeks, ready to pick up exactly where they left off? For example, Karlsson, with six points in seven games, was off to perhaps his best start as a Shark.
“I don’t know. I don’t think so,” Karlsson said, acknowledging the layoff and yet unknown COVID effects . “Like I told the other guys, we’re gonna treat it like the first game of the season. We’ll go from there.”
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