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Canadian NHL teams likely to have to keep tighter COVID-19 protocols

Ottawa Senators goalie Filip Gustavsson, left, gives up a goal to the Flames’ Dillon Dube during the third period on Sunday in Calgary, Alberta. (Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Life is starting to shift back to normal in the National Hockey League — just not for players in Canada.

The NHL eased some of its COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for clubs that have been fully vaccinated. But because of the decidedly slower rollout to get shots in arms north of the border, Canadian franchises won’t be enjoying the same freedoms as some of their U.S.-based counterparts anytime soon.

“Very jealous,” said Winnipeg Jets winger Andrew Copp, who is from Michigan. “I see my family and my friends living a normal life right now. Very jealous of that. Happy for the guys in the states that are playing hockey to be able to live their lives as much as possible.”

Edmonton Oilers defenseman Tyson Barrie said the league’s move is a good sign, even though teams in Canada are still bound by the same directives they’ve been adhering to since training camp — daily testing, physical distancing and limited contact with teammates outside the rink — that were beefed up further amid a rash of coronavirus outbreaks in February.

“There’s a lot of teams down there that are vaccinated,” Barrie said. “We’ve been in these protocols for a long time, so if it’s safe and everyone’s able to do it, then absolutely it’s an exciting time to be able to get back out there and support some businesses and try to get this thing back on track.”

The relaxing of NHL protocols announced Saturday takes effect once 85% or more of a team’s traveling party has been fully vaccinated. The changes include loosened restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining, testing frequency, mask wearing and quarantine requirements.

All members of the Toronto Maple Leafs were eligible to be vaccinated starting Sunday because the team’s practice facility is located in one of Ontario’s designated COVID-19 hot spots. The Montreal Canadiens, meanwhile, are expected to begin getting their shots Thursday after Quebec lowered age restrictions.

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