In three days of media availability with the Flyers, there have been a few constants. The phrase “thank you for doing this” has become second nature, as has every variation of “these uncertain times“. There have been questions about conditioning, the availability of an ice rink during the quarantine, and whether the Orange & Black will be able to get back to their pre-quarantine form.
On Tuesday, Brian Elliott’s candid response to a question about how he feels entering the bubble – and subsequently being away from his family – opened a new line of questioning:
.@NHLFlyers goalie Brian Elliott talked about how hard it's going to be to have his kids ask, "Are you coming home, Dad?" But says it's part of the sacrifice the players make, and how big of a sacrifice their families make. He also gave his wife a shoutout and thank you.
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) July 14, 2020
I think any parent can relate to that feeling, especially with young children who don’t necessarily understand the complexities of their parents’ professional lives and responsibilities.
Brian Elliott isn’t the only player with a family at home. Defenseman Justin Braun on Wednesday talked about the difficulty of leaving his wife and daughter behind, while also noting the league has a help line for those struggling with separation and presumably any other mental health concerns surrounding the return to play:
.@NHLFlyers defenseman Justin Braun on the bubble and mental health: I've been here for just over a week and it's been tough being away from my daughter and wife… It's gonna be a grind. Facetime isn't the same as being there. We have a helpline if we need it.
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) July 15, 2020
With all due respect to Elliott and Braun, no player is in a less enviable position than James van Riemsdyk. JVR is the Flyers’ NHLPA rep and served on the league’s Return to Play committee. He’s been responsible for disseminating information from committee meetings and discussions with the league to his teammates for the past few months. He also became a #GirlDad in early May:
— x-Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) May 3, 2020
His daughter was born just days before mine, so I understand the plight he faced when deciding whether or not to return to play with his teammates in pursuit of the lifelong goal of winning a Stanley Cup. So few people want to acknowledge the human side of sports, notably the impact that returning to play in a hub city can have: two months away from loved ones if your team makes it to the Stanley Cup Final, potential daily exposure to asymptomatic carriers, opening your family up to exposure if they join you in Edmonton for the conference final or Stanley Cup Final.
Van Riemsdyk said that he never really considered opting out of the NHL’s Return to Play, citing a desire to reach the pinnacle of the sport. He also said that being on the RTP committee throughout the NHL pause was beneficial in that he had the opportunity to see safety protocols being discussed and proposed before anyone else:
.@NHLFlyers forward James van Riemsdyk says opting out w/ a young child at home wasn't an option. Cites being on the RTP committee and knowledge of protocols ahead of time helped.
— Russ Joy (@JoyOnBroad) July 15, 2020
Do these guys want your sympathy? Doubtful. I’d bet that a bit of empathy and understanding would go a long way. Sure, it’s easy to point to the exorbitant salaries that athletes make to play a game, but the emotional toll it takes on Brian Elliott and Justin Braun when their kids ask when Dad’s coming home, or the pain JVR feels knowing he can’t bond with his baby girl in person is real.
For more Flyers coverage, follow Snow The Goalie on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also be sure to tune into The Press Row Show as Anthony SanFilippo and Russ Joy provide pregame and intermission coverage of every Flyers home game from press row of the Wells Fargo Center via the Crossing Broad Facebook page, YouTube Live, and Twitter, and their Twitter accounts Follow @SnowTheGoalie Follow @AntSanPhilly Follow @JoyOnBroad
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