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Oilers take long route from Edmonton to L.A., avoiding COVID-19 testing

NHL team elects to drive over the border in Vancouver on its way to playoff game
Los Angeles Kings’ Carl Grundstrom (91) looks on as Edmonton Oilers’ Evander Kane (91), Connor McDavid (97) and Jesse Puljujarvi (13) celebrate a goal during third period NHL playoff action in Edmonton on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

The Edmonton Oilers took the long way to get to L.A. ahead of Game 3 in their first-round playoff series against the Kings.

Instead of taking a charter flight directly to California, the club opted to fly to Vancouver after their Game 2 win on Wednesday, spend the night in a hotel, then bus over the border on Thursday morning before flying from Bellingham, Wash., to California.

The unique journey allowed the team to avoid COVID-19 testing before entering the U.S.

Current restrictions require people entering the States via air to provide a negative COVID-19 test, something not required at a land border crossing.

Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft said the longer travel day was the smartest move for his group and that players were involved in choosing the itinerary.

“I think what you want to do is you want to make the best decision possible for your group and was one that we gave a lot of thought to,” he said Friday night after the team arrived at its hotel in downtown L.A. “It was executed excellently today and we’re getting ready for Game 3 tomorrow.”

The team has not decided whether it would make the same journey if the series returns to California for a Game 6. The best-of-seven matchup is currently tied at 1-1.

Edmonton isn’t the only pro sports team choosing to bus over the border amid the current COVID rules.

During their first-round NBA playoff series against the Toronto Raptors, the 76ers bused to Buffalo, N.Y., before continuing on to Philadelphia.

The Red Sox reportedly returned to Boston via bus after a four-game series against the Blue Jays at the end of April.

Other NHL teams are believed to have travelled to Bellingham following games in Vancouver near the end of the NHL’s regular season.

It was not immediately clear which route the Maple Leafs used to travel from Toronto to Tampa Bay for Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Lightning, set for Wednesday.

Both the Kings and Lightning took direct flights home.

The Calgary Flames took a charter directly to Dallas Friday morning ahead of Game 3 against the Stars on Saturday.

Woodcroft said his group wasn’t troubled by the unique logistics.

“I thought it was a really well-executed day. It’s a credit to the people that put it together with our travel department,” he said. “The players are energized by how we travelled and being in the California sunshine.”

The travel day was “a little different than normal,” said defenceman Evan Bouchard.

Asked whether he had exhausted Netflix during his ample time in transit, he smiled.

“I’m not too much of a Netflix guy,” Bouchard said. “No, I’m more of an Xbox player.”

—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

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