‘I’m like a quarantine professional now’: Jets prospect Cole Perfetti’s 34 days of isolation

As high-level hockey tries to trudge through the COVID-19 pandemic, its players have been forced to adapt — and accept isolation as a lifestyle.

One player who knows this well is Winnipeg Jets prospect Cole Perfetti. The 19-year-old has spent 34 days quarantining over the past three months, and since Nov. 15, he has been living out of a hotel for all but three days. Not exactly an ideal scenario entering his first season as a professional hockey player.

“I’m like a quarantine professional now,” Perfetti said. “Through it, I’ve learned that just having an open mindset is so important, being able to go with the flow and accept changes. But it’s definitely been tough at times.”

Perfetti detailed his experiences — from competing in the World Junior Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, in December and January to his current setup in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he will debut soon for the AHL’s Manitoba Moose — as a window into the mind of an elite athlete who’s been forced mostly into seclusion this winter, and how it affected both his mental health and athletic preparation.

Perfetti was playing for the Saginaw Spirit of the OHL when his season abruptly ended in March 2020.

“It sucked,” Perfetti said. “We had a really good team in Saginaw. We were one of the hottest teams in the CHL the last 10-15 games, and we were excited for a playoff run.”

Initially, he figured that the season would resume in a couple of weeks. He returned to his home in Whitby, Ontario, with just some clothing. Nearly a year later, there’s still plenty — shoes, TV, “lots of little things in my room” — sitting in his room at his billet family’s house in Michigan.

Perfetti went through his entire NHL draft process virtually, and was selected No. 10 overall by the Jets in October. On Nov. 15, he traveled to Red Deer, Alberta, for Team Canada selection camp for the WJC. He had to quarantine for 24 hours, but once his COVID-19 test was negative, he was allowed on the ice. About a week into camp, two players tested positive for the virus. The entire team was considered close contacts and ordered to 14-day quarantines.

Perfetti had never quarantined before, so he didn’t know what to expect. Team officials laid out the ground rules. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God, you can’t leave your room, the food will come to you.’ Everything was very strict,” Perfetti said. “No window opening, no fresh air. I didn’t have a panic attack, but I was getting a little anxious and worked up about it.”

The days became extremely regimented. Perfetti woke up at 9 a.m. and a hotel-prepared breakfast would be waiting outside his room. The team had a Zoom meeting, going over a system or game tape. A workout (via Zoom) followed an hour or so before lunch. A second team Zoom meeting focused on team building, or team camaraderie. Another three-to-four-hour block of free time followed. A hotel-prepared dinner would be brought outside his room. Then another team meeting happened at night; for these, coaches brought in celebrities and guest speakers, such as the Canadian band the Arkells or Jamie Clarke, who has climbed Mount Everest twice.

“Big time, the days blended together,” Perfetti said. “Every day I would do the exact same things; we would have meetings at the exact same times.”

He got some help along the way. Hockey Canada secured a stationary bike for each player and delivered it to their rooms. Perfetti’s parents mailed him a diffuser.

“That was the toughest part, trying to get moisture in the air, fresh air in the room,” he said. “It was difficult, but it made me appreciate the fresh things in life — like fresh air — a little more.”

When the team was released out of quarantine, Perfetti said he was “super excited” — both to get back to playing hockey and for some social interaction. “But I never thought I would be as tired as I was after taking two weeks off and jumping back into practice,” he said. “Everyone had a tough time the first day back — it was pretty exhausting.”

Perfetti was selected to the team, and team members drove from Red Deer to Edmonton on Dec. 13. “I think it was really good for the mind, to just be in a fresh setting.”

The next quarantine — necessary to enter the WJC bubble — was only 4½ days. The team stayed at the JW Marriott, attached to the rink in Edmonton, which Perfetti said was the nicest hotel in which he’s ever stayed. Thanks to a rotating flat screen and “a massive, massive shower with rainfall shower heads,” Perfetti said these four days flew by, and he knew what to expect.

After the tournament, several players reported directly to NHL camps. “I was fortunate enough the Jets let me go home for three days, before I had to go to Winnipeg,” he said. “It was so necessary for me. After being in a hotel for 55 straight days, I was so done with a hotel. Three days at home, seeing my family, was really good for my mental state of mind.”

Perfetti’s parents asked him if he wanted to order in food to celebrate his birthday or Christmas. “I was like, ‘Absolutely not,'” he said. “Can we go get food at the grocery store and just make it, please? Hotel-made food got old, really fast.”

Then it was off to Winnipeg, where Perfetti was back to quarantine again.

Per Manitoba orders, Perfetti had to quarantine for seven days in total isolation and get tested every other day. Because the NHL worked out an exemption with the government, the next seven days were a hybrid quarantine. He was able to skate with the Moose, but he wasn’t able to go anywhere besides the hotel or the rink.

“So I was still locked in pretty much,” Perfetti said. “But it was a lot easier knowing that I could go to the rink, still play hockey, and take my mind off of just being in my hotel, and it killed some hours in my day.”

Perfetti remained at the hotel after the quarantine, and it’s where he lives now. The Jets arranged for him to be at an extended-stay hotel, which includes a kitchen.

“Honestly, being by yourself, having to cook, clean, do all of that stuff, I’ve learned that takes up a lot of your day,” Perfetti said. “I’ve bought one meal since I’ve been here the last month. I’ve cooked everything else. I don’t have all the resources — pots, pans, spices, sauces — that I would at home, but at least I know what I’m putting into my body: healthy foods and the right amount of food for me. As an athlete, that’s really important.”

The teenager said he learned a lot about himself the past few months, and he has tips for anyone who has to go through a quarantine. Yes, PlayStation helped — both in killing time and socializing. “Even though you’re not hanging out with your friends, you’re kind of hanging out with them over the mic and interacting with each other,” he said. FaceTiming friends and family was equally beneficial.

The biggest tip: Going to bed early was crucial. “I would go to bed at like 10 o’clock and wake up at 9,” he said. “There’s 11 hours of your day gone. And it felt rejuvenating once I got out of it, and even though the first back day on the ice was tough, I actually felt like I had a lot of energy coming out of all the quarantines because I was getting so much sleep.”

As far as staying in shape, Perfetti was realistic about expectations. He likely wasn’t going to make huge gains with limited equipment and confined space.

“I just tried to maintain some kind of physical activity a day,” he said. “YouTube has a ton of great workout videos where you can follow along for 20, 30 minutes. I wasn’t trying to absolutely destroy my muscles and put on muscle and gain strength. It was more about breaking a sweat and making sure I wasn’t just lying down in my bed. You have to know that no matter what you do, coming out of quarantine, your conditioning just isn’t going to be what it was. It will take a couple days to get back into it — nothing replicates skating, except for skating — but it was important to know that and not be too hard on yourself.”

After nearly a year of uncertainty and altered plans, Perfetti will begin his first professional season soon, as the Moose skate against the Toronto Marlies on Monday.

“In some ways, I think the last few months were really helpful in my transition to [pro hockey],” he said. “Things are going to happen that you’re not expecting, things are going to mess with your schedule, but being adaptable is a big part of success.”

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