As soon as Minnesota Wild winger Marcus Foligno took the ice for Friday’s practice at Xcel Energy Center, he let out a roar that echoed throughout the empty arena. Clearly, he was excited to be back after spending the past week and a half on the COVID list.
So were the rest of his teammates. Or at least everyone available to the Wild on the heels of their 10-day shutdown.
The Wild only had 16 players on the ice for Friday’s practice. Not nearly enough to field a team if they actually had to play a game. They still have 12 players on the COVID list, though some players are expected to be cleared to return in the next few days.
It’s unclear what the Wild lineup will look like for Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center. But Wild general manager Bill Guerin says he is fully expecting to play that game.
“We just really have to take it in stride,” Guerin said. “The good thing is that we’ve turned the corner and things are looking good for us moving forward. Our players are getting healthy, and that’s the important thing right now.”
In a lot of ways, Foligno is the perfect example of that. He addressed reporters after Friday’s practice and acknowledged for the first time publicly that he tested positive for COVID a week and a half ago. He said he woke up with chills on Jan. 31 and texted head trainer John Worley to let him know he wasn’t feeling well. He tested positive later that day and immediately was placed on the COVID list.
That was the beginning of Foligno’s experience with the virus. He self-isolated from his family as best he could, and described his symptoms as being similar to that of the flu. He also was extremely fatigued for a few days before he finally started to bounce back.
To be removed from the COVID list, Foligno had to be at least 10 days out from when his symptoms initially appeared, and he had to be fever-free for at least a day. He also had to be cleared by a cardiologist as well as the team doctor.
“Once I got cleared, I felt good, and today I felt even better,” Foligno said. “Hopefully it’s moving forward.”
In addition to dealing with symptoms, Foligno said it was hard not to blame himself as more and more Wild players started to appear on the COVID list.
Here’s a brief rundown of the past week and a half: Nick Bjugstad, Nick Bonino, Joel Eriksson Ek, Marcus Johansson and Jared Spurgeon were added to the list on Feb. 3. Nico Sturm was added on Feb. 4, Ian Cole on Feb. 5, Brad Hunt on Feb. 7, Victor Rask and Carson Soucy on Feb. 8, and Jonas Brodin and Cam Talbot on Feb. 9.
“I felt really guilty,” Foligno said. “It’s kind of like I brought it in here.”
In that same breath, Foligno acknowledged that he knows he probably shouldn’t blame himself too much. More than likely, someone on the team was going to test positive at some point this season. He just happened to be that person.
“We are playing through a pandemic,” Foligno said. “These things are going to happen. Hopefully, everyone is healed up pretty soon and we can get our full team back and have a good rest of the season.”
Ahead of Friday’s practice, the Wild underwent rapid testing to confirm no positive tests. They also reconfigured the locker room to increase social distancing.
Wild coach Dean Evason said his main objective with Friday’s practice was to get players back in the swing of things after the 10-day pause. He was “very conscious” about workload and expects things to ramp up in the coming days.
Asked how the Wild get to the necessary number of players before Tuesday’s game, Guerin jokingly responded, “Slowly.” He noted that the lineup for that game likely will feature “quite a few depth guys.” In other words, there could be a number players called up from the Iowa Wild.
“Hopefully we’ll be getting guys back incrementally,” Guerin said. “It’s kind of as they were diagnosed. That’s day by day.”
In theory, Bjugstad, Bonino, Eriksson Ek, Johansson and Spurgeon could be cleared to return on the same day at some point this weekend. After that, Sturm, Cole, Hunt, Rask, Soucy, Brodin and Talbot will be removed from the COVID list in the order they were added.
That timeline could change based on the individual player.
“I think it’ll be different for everybody,” Guerin said. “I think the most important thing is that we listen to them and not group everybody together. We have to listen to them and do what’s right for them. If somebody’s symptomatic, or not feeling right, then we’re not going to put them in harm’s way.”
There’s a chance different players could be cleared to return next week while the Wild are on the road. Asked if the team would charter those players out to the West Coast for games, Guerin responded, “It depends. If it makes sense to do that, we’ll do it.”
It’s unclear if the Wild would feel comfortable playing certain guys without any practices under their belt.
“We’ll communicate with each individual as they come back,” Evason said. “We are going to have guys trickling in and out. We have kind of a game plan of who we expect at a different day will at least be able to practice with us. It could change. We’ll go day to day and get our team ready to play when that puck is dropped.”
As for Foligno, he’s excited for Tuesday’s game regardless of what the lineup looks like, and he expects his teammates feel the same way.
“We have a couple more practices here before we play in L.A., so honestly, I think it’s something where mental toughness is going to take over,” Foligno said. “Just be excited to play again and be excited to win games. Then look back at the end of the year when we make the playoffs and look at this as a positive rather than a negative.”