Canadian junior team defenceman Thomas Harley an Edmonton ‘bubble’ veteran

Dallas Stars defenseman Thomas Harley (55) handles the puck in the third period of a preseason NHL hockey game against the St. Louis Blues in Dallas, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Thomas Harley has hockey “bubble” know-how.

When the Canadian team arrived in Edmonton for the world junior hockey championship, the 19-year-old defenceman’s insider knowledge on setting up his video game console in his hotel room was in demand.

“I had mine set up in about half a second and the guys were calling me for help because it’s a little complicated,” Harley told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

“I would tell them in about 30 seconds ‘you do this, this, this and this and you’re all set to go.’

“I’ve been here before. I know what I’m doing.”

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Harley spent just over eight weeks with the Dallas Stars in the NHL’s playoff “bubble” in Edmonton this past summer. The Stars lost the Stanley Cup final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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A handful of the 250 players in the world under-20 men’s hockey championship opening Christmas Day experienced this year’s NHL playoffs completed in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those few know what it is to be walled off from the general public, tested constantly for the virus and compete in an NHL arena without spectators.

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None were as long a hauler as Harley, who went the distance from opening day Aug. 1 to Sept. 28 when the Lightning lifted the Stanley Cup.

“I look back on it fondly I guess,” Harley said. “When you’re in the bubble, you don’t think you’re having a lot of fun, but now that I look back on it, I realize it was a good time.

“How much I learned from just being around those NHL player every day, how they prepared, how they practised and how they carry themselves, it was really cool.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton D.J. Johnny Infamous emerges from NHL bubble'
Edmonton D.J. Johnny Infamous emerges from NHL bubble

Harley admitted it felt like a bit of a time warp to move back into the same hotel — “my home away from home” — across the street from Rogers Place, with a street view this time instead of the courtyard.

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All world junior players, coaches, team staff and tournament personnel were isolating in hotel rooms Tuesday midway through a four-day quarantine.

Once they’re cleared, teams will start prepping for pre-tournament games.

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A 12-day tournament might feel relatively short for Harley, but he says he won’t lord that over another player who thinks 23 days in Edmonton is a long time.

“I’ll kind of just raise an eyebrow to myself and stay quiet about it,” Harley said.

All personnel inside the junior tournament hub wears technology tracking their movements.

Hockey Canada’s vice-president of events Dean McIntosh said: “We know where everyone in the bubble is at all times.”

Harley was wearing a wristband Tuesday that ensured he’s quarantining in his room for the required amount of time.

All players, coaches and tournament personnel will have a contact-tracing beacon embedded in their event credential for the duration of the tournament.

“They’re going to see me in my room and at the rink and that’s about it, so it’s not going to be very exciting,” Harley stated.

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Canadian teammates Peyton Krebs (Vegas Golden Knights), Bowen Byram (Colorado Avalanche) and Kirby Dach (Chicago Blackhawks) were also in Edmonton’s NHL “bubble” with Harley for as long as their respective NHL teams lasted in the post-season.

Connor McMichael (Washington Capitals) spent 20 days in Toronto for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Swedish defencemen Philip Broberg (Edmonton Oilers) and Victor Soderstrom (Arizona Coyotes) also had NHL playoff stints in Edmonton.

Of the Canadian players, only Dach played a significant amount of games. Krebs, Byram and McMichael were practice players.

Harley appeared in one game, which was his NHL playoff debut, against the Avalanche in the seeding round.

He was born in Syracuse, N.Y., to Canadian parents and played for the Ontario Hockey League’s Mississauga Steelheads.

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His parents have strong Edmonton connections.

His father Brian, who hails from the Alberta capital, met Stephanie of Fort St. John, B.C., while the couple attended the University of Alberta.

Harley is prepared to help his teammates navigate “bubble” life, should they need advice.

“A couple of the guys have asked me,” he said. “It’s definitely different, but it only takes a couple days to adjust.

“We’re here to play hockey and as long as we’re doing that, I think we’re pretty happy. When the games start, the days will start to fly by.”

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