by PuckStopsHere on 11/12/09 at 06:50 PM ET
It isn’t clear how badly the H1N1 flu will affect North America as we enter the traditional winter flu season. Nobody knows how many people will be affected. There is a precedent in hockey for flu causing disruption. In 1919, there was no Stanley Cup winner as both finalists - the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans - were hit hard by the flu and the finals were cancelled. At a time, the entire Montreal Canadiens team was hospitalized and defenceman Joe Hall died of the flu. This was the famous Spanish influenza epidemic. Returning soldiers from World War I brought back a new strain of the flu and it killed an estimated 50 million people (about 3% of the world’s population). This was the second wave of the Spanish Flu, as World War I had ended in 1918.
Hopefully medicine is better equipped to deal with a major flu pandemic today than it was in 1919, but we never can know for sure. However, with the invention of vaccination, there is a new weapon to fight a flu pandemic.
Hockey teams are a very good breeding ground for the flu. Teams are in tight quarters and often sweating on one another. Should the flu infect a couple players on a team, it is quite likely to infect many. That has led to teams trying to get immunized for H1N1. There has been some controversy in this process as there is not enough vaccine for everyone who wants it in the general public. The biggest controversy so far has come when the Calgary Flames and their families got immunized at the same time the province of Alberta was shutting down vaccination clinics due to a lack of vaccine.
A handful of NHL players have contracted the H1N1 flu, but they have been successfully quarantined from teams to prevent entire teams from being affected at the same time. The QMJHL has been hit hardest by the H1N1 flu so far. They have postponed three games after players on the Shawinigan Cataractes and the Prince Edward Island Rockets contracted the virus. This weekend, the Shawinigan games against Acadie-Bathurst and PEI arepostponed and the PEI games against Baie-Comeau (as well as Shawinigan) are postponed as well. Last week, the Moncton Wildcats games agains Val d’Or and Rouyn Noranda were postponed for similar reasons. The QMJHL is yet to name make up dates for the games.
Postponing of games is one technique to prevent the spread of a flu pandemic. Will the NHL find it necessary to go that route? At this point, the guess (and hope) is that they won’t, but it is not impossible.
There is a precedent for cancelling hockey games due to flu pandemics. The 1919 Spanish flu pandemic is a famous example of when this was necessary. Will it get that bad this year? We hope not, but cannot know for sure.
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