Leading up to the Blackhawks’ qualifier series against the Oilers, Chicago forward Matthew Highmore has agreed to give Second City Hockey readers an inside look into hub city life in Edmonton. The 24-year-old is preparing for his first NHL postseason and will share his stories from inside the bubble.
SCH: Did you notice anything different from Monday and Tuesday compared to Sunday when you guys arrived? Things around the bubble, the hotel or going to the rink at Rogers Place.
MH: Different from normal, obviously yes. I think all the safety precautions have been taken whether it’s taking your temperature, washing your hands, hand sanitizer everywhere so [the NHL] has done a really good job that way. Obviously, Rogers Place is a little bit different but I think it’s going to look really cool on TV.
MH: Yeah, I did watch. I probably watched a little over half. I thought it looked really cool. Obviously with no fans in the stands it’s a little bit different. It was a nice touch for both teams to have their goal song and goal horns. I thought the game was good, the pace picked up through the game and I think good things are around the corner.
SCH: What’s been the temperature check situation for you guys? Are you waiting in a line to have it done and how long does it take?
MH: It’s really, really quick. It’s done by a computer and you get your results within seconds. It’s really quick and I haven’t really seen any lines. You kind of just go do it. It probably takes you about 20 seconds.
SCH: Now taking those COVID tests aren’t a piece of cake are they?
MH: (Laughter) It’s... not too bad. It’s obviously something we have to do, but I guess you kind of get used to it over time. They’re not a whole lot of fun, but there could be far worse things.
SCH: Who on the team takes it the worse or has the best reaction?
MH: Oh, that’s a great question. Obviously nobody enjoys it. I’m trying to think who might react the worse to it or rather the best. It’s funny because we don’t really see anybody get it done. So I don’t know if I really have an answer for you on that because we don’t see it get done. I just know nobody is really enjoying it (laughter).
SCH: Do you have your room at the hotel or are you rooming with someone?
MH: We have our separate rooms and that’s obviously part of the protocol. We have a team room as well that we have meals, watch some TV together and just kind of hangout so that part has been great. You’ve got your alone time and you can also hangout with the boys.
SCH: So speaking of that group room, I saw you and Collin Delia and Brandon Saad and some others were playing ping-pong. Did you and Delia win that?
MH: We definitely took the loss. Deals and I... we didn’t have our A-game, but there’s a lot of time to redeem ourselves.
SCH: There are obviously a lot of player amenities for you guys. Is there something that has stuck out to you that you were surprised would be available to you?
MH: The player lounge. You’re able to do so many different things whether it’s hangout, play cards or ping-pong. It’s just something where you can just get away from your hotel room and just hangout so that’s really impressed me. I think that as time goes by here we’ll probably use it more and more as a team to stay busy and have a laugh or hangout.
SCH: I know you’ve had playoff experience in the AHL, and this is your first time in the postseason in the NHL but is it weird to be walking around the bubble and seeing guys that you could be playing games against later on?
MH: Yeah, that’s definitely a little bit different. You might get into the elevator with somebody you play against or may play against in the future so that’s definitely a little bit different. But I think everyone is making the best of it and the unique situation. We all just have to go with it.
SCH: This is still your first full year in the NHL after your November call-up. Do you feel that you’ve integrated in with the older players on the team?
MH: I feel that I’ve been here for awhile. Now, obviously since the start of November and gotten increasingly more comfortable. The older players have done a great job of kind of integrating everybody and I certainly feel part of the team. It’s been a lot of fun getting to know these guys and building friendships so it’s been great so far.
SCH: It seems like since you guys have come back from the pause that players are more relaxed and willing to do interviews and hold more of a conversation with them. What do you think is the reasoning behind that?
MH: We were gone for so long that everyone is just really happy to be back. The enthusiasm is through the roof, and I think that you’re kind of seeing that in all different parts whether it be players on social media giving everybody kind of a sneak peak or do interviews and what not. I think the enthusiasm to be able to play and have people be able to watch — obviously not in the stands but at home — brings some joy to people during this tough time.
SCH: My main question with packing for the bubble is you could be there for a week or two months, so what were the two or three things where you had to pack them?
MH: For me, I needed to bring my computer and be able to have that access to be able to watch Netflix. As for other stuff, I wanted to make sure I brought some comfy clothes to be able to lounge in. Some guys have brought a gaming system to keep busy and play with the boys and enjoy their time.
SCH: Is there anything a teammate brought that you were surprised to see?
MH: (Laughter) No, I think all the boys just brought normal stuff. A lot of guys have been playing some video games together. Nothing too crazy that surprised me anyway.
SCH: Are you any good at these video games and what are you guys playing? And what’s the Netflix show you’ve been watching?
MH: I’ve been watching ‘Suits.’ I started it a couple years ago and now that there are a couple new seasons I’ve been watching that to catch up. The game that guys have been playing is ‘Call of Duty: WarZone’ or ‘The Golf Club’ and that gets competitive. ‘Warzone’ ... [I’m] not at all good. I actually don’t play because I’m so bad, but I play a little bit of the ‘The Golf Club.’ Very mediocre, at best.
SCH: What are you looking forward to these next couple days before Saturday when you guys play Edmonton?
MH: It’s just continuing to get more comfortable in the bubble, continuing to change your routine to make sure it all kind of aligns. Obviously, we’ve got to get our exhibition game in [Wednesday] and get a feeling out process for that. It’s been awhile since we’ve played [March 11] so just trying to get our legs back and starting to get into that gameday routine, which will be something that I’m looking forward to and I know everyone else is too.
SCH: So what’s going to be the pregame attire? Are you rocking a suit, do you guys have like a dress code to wear polos, what’s going on with that?
MH: Yeah, for our team we’re going to wear polos. It’s a pretty simple business causal look and we’ll head to the rink in that.