Tuukka Rask Tuukka Leave of Absence From the Playoffs

Someday, when this weird-as-hell season is over, we might find out what exactly made Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask bail on the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Rask took some heat a few days ago for admitting to reporters that playing in the bubble “doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey.”

“There’s no fans. …[I]t’s definitely not a playoff atmosphere.”

His remarks were — well, accurate. But they were also heresy in the Temple of Sport. Now, after his departure from competition, it’s clear there was more to Rask’s ambivalence than simple failure to feel the bubble hockey vibe.

Boston sports radio station WEEI reports vaguely that “there was a family emergency, but …everything is fine now.” and “Rask’s family, which includes a four-month-old baby girl and two other young girls, is healthy and safe.” Which is great, because they knew we’d fear otherwise.

Capitals forward T.J. Oshie laced his supportive remarks with not TOO much shade: “I’ve got a family at home, you know, it’s hard… I respect his decision… I want to stay and I want to win. But every guy is different and if he feels that’s what he needs for his family, more power to him and I respect that.”

I MEAN, PERSONALLY I’M HERE TO WIN, BUT EVERYBODY’S DIFFERENT, RIGHT?

It’s apparently not anything Rask or the team wants to make public just now, but whatever’s going on with him, it’s something more acute than just simple homesickness. Bruins GM Don Sweeney said “[w]e understand completely where Tuukka’s coming from. I don’t think it’s any big surprise to us, to be honest with you. We’re privy to information maybe before the rest of the public is. This has been a difficult decision for Tuukka, but the Boston Bruins are in full support of why he made this decision.”

In this article from the beginning of July, Tom Reed of DKPittsburghSports.com foresaw the psychological difficulty of competing under quarantine — a challenge for which elite athletes, for all the other types of training they undergo, might not be well equipped. Reed spoke to people familiar with the stresses of prolonged isolation, including a professor of psychiatry, Biosphere 2 participants, and a filmmaker/researcher who trained at the Mars Desert Research Station.

(This last guy now lives by choice amongst the gila monsters in an Arizona ghost town, so asking him about the mental toll of isolation might be a little like asking a fish if it hates that pruny feeling from so much time in the water.)

We might eventually get more detail on the factors that informed Rask’s decision, and we might not. Either way, COVID-19 seems to have appropriately adjusted people’s priorities. A year ago, I’d’ve expected any player walking away from the playoffs to get full-throated contempt and abuse from fans and commentators for it. Instead, it seems like the general response to Rask’s announcement has been a variation on Elvis’s old credo: “Don’t criticize what you don’t understand, son. You never [skated] in that man’s [crease].”

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