BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — The Buffalo Sabres have taken another step in the right direction, welcoming back their first of nine players from the COVID-19 protocol list.
Forward Taylor Hall was one of the first names put on the list back on February 2nd and after quarantining for 10 days and completing a rehab skate on Friday, Hall was cleared to rejoin the team for their practice on Saturday.
"It's always fun to be back and have that camaraderie," Hall said about his first practice back. "It's something you miss when you're gone for sure."
Hall confirmed he tested positive for COVID-19 but was asymptomatic. Per league rules he wasn't able to work out at home while on the COVID-19 protocol list but following his first day back, he plans to play in the team's game on Monday.
"Your first game back is always going to feel a little bit rusty after some time off. But there's no better way to get back into it than to throw yourself in and just play," Hall said. "I think with the doctors and the medical staff, we still need to chat a little bit. I'm just gonna go out and play and see what happens."
Hall skated on a line alongside Eric Staal and Sam Reinhart and seemed to have no issue keeping up with his teammates. He was on the bench laughing and chatting with the guys he hasn't seen in nearly two weeks. They're the same guys who continued to check in on him and the others while things were on pause.
"We're all going through this for the first time so you never know if a guy is going to have those flu-like symptoms or if he's gonna be feeling just fine so you reach out to everyone," Hall said about the team keeping in touch. "A few of us that were on the COVID list, we were just chatting, had a group chat going, and just exchanging how we were feeling."
While Hall has been cleared to come back, eight players [Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin, Curtis Lazar, Jake McCabe, Casey Mittelstadt, Brandon Montour, Tobias Rieder, and Rasmus Ristolainen] are still on the COVID protocol list along with head coach Ralph Krueger who did test positive and is showing symptoms.
The team called up several taxi squad members [C.J. Smith, Jacob Bryson, and Steven Fogarty] to fill the team's lines during Saturday's practice. Hall believes this is a step in the right direction, despite the initial frustrations.
"This is everyone's first time going through this. We're all trying our best here," Hall said."It's unfortunate we were in the middle of it but we'll get through it and we'll be fine."
The Sabres will finally play their first game on Monday, February 15th following their shutdown. The Sabres are currently 4-4-2 and are last in the East Division standings [10 points], thanks in part to their lack of time on the ice.
Hall picked up six points in his first three games of the season, but since then has been fairly quiet. He's hoping this break is what the team needs to turn things around.
"I thought my first six games were very good. I felt comfortable with how I was playing. The last four, not so great, but I still believe in myself and what I can do and how I can help the team," Hall said. "We're gonna get it together as a team. We're right in the middle of a playoff race that's there for the taking."
The Sabres will be back at practice Sunday afternoon. More players are eligible to come off the COVID protocol list as long as they pass all of the mandatory tests.