The Senators’ recipe for success: skill, grit — and antibiotics?

By Terry Tinkess

“Extra, extra, read all about it. Stanley Cup playoffs postponed due to disease outbreak. SARS shelves Sens, read all about it!”

While it isn’t likely this will happen, the speed with which a little- known ailment spread in the Greater Toronto Area in the past three weeks has made people stop and think.

The consequences of a disease for which not only is there no known cure, but also no definitive cause is the material a Stephen King novel is made of.

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, first became prominent in Canada about three weeks ago.

Since then it has been holding second spot behind the war in Iraq as the subject most discussed by the media.

The origin of the disease has been traced to China’s Guangdong province.

The symptoms of SARS are obscure: basically, a fever of more than 38C and respiratory problems like difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.

The potential spread of an infectious, debilitating disease amongst the players is one obstacle that the Ottawa Senators had not planned on facing in their effort to win the Stanley Cup.

As the team prepares for the playoffs, they are coming off their most successful regular season yet.

Players like Marion Hossa, Patrick Lalime and Shaun Van Allen have all had career years, and with the addition of a little “grit” in the form of Vaclav Varada and Rob Ray, the team now seems poised to make a legitimate run at hockey’s Holy Grail.

Publicly, management and players have been saying it is not a concern, and it will be business as usual.

Still, it has to be on their minds, especially when you consider the amount of close contact involved in playing the game of hockey.

The problem struck just a little too close to home for the NHL when two members of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres were recently quarantined as a precaution.

Sabres defenceman Brian Campbell, who once played junior hockey with the Ottawa 67’s, was quarantined after a female relative started suffering symptoms of the disease.

She had visited Campbell in the week prior to displaying symptoms.

Teammate Rhett Warrener was quarantined because he is Campbell’s roommate.

Although neither player has to date displayed symptoms of the disease, Campbell and Warrener have agreed to accept voluntary quarantine for a period of ten days.

No other Sabres players have been affected. The team’s management contacted the NHL when it first became aware of the situation and has kept the league informed of any developments in the players’ conditions.

The Sabres have known for some time they would not be going to the playoffs, so while this is an inconvenience, it really doesn’t affect the team any more than losing a player through injury of suspension

But what if the Ottawa Senators experienced an outbreak of SARS?

Professional sports by their very nature operate in a sort of a bubble and are rarely affected, at least in any obvious way, by what happens in the real world. An outbreak like this brings reality to the land of make-believe.

While the teams won’t admit publicly to any precautions, you can be sure that when the doors are closed, the players have been told that there are some activities — for instance, like public appearances — that should be avoided.

Team members lead a very structured life during the playoffs anyway, so maintaining a healthy environment should be a little easier than is the case during the regular season.

Still, I don’t think most fans would really object if, in the name of health and safety, goaltender Patrick Lalime wasn’t the only player on the ice wearing a mask for the next few weeks. Surgical, that is.