NHL advises players to limit contact with fans amid calls to postpone game in San Jose

The NHL has sent a memo to teams urging players to limit contact with fans because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

World Cup skiing finals in Italy, speed skating in Calgary nixed because of coronavirus

Despite recommendations to cancel, the San Jose Sharks' Saturday night matchup against the Ottawa Senators is scheduled to happen. The NHL, however, is advising its players to limit fan interactions. (Jeff Chiu/The Associated Press)

The NHL has sent a memo to teams urging players to limit contact with fans because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the league issued the memo in an email to The Canadian Press on Friday.

The move follows a similar directive issued earlier this month by the NBA, which has told its players to stop high-fiving fans and strangers, and avoid taking items for autographs.

"You have hand sanitizer at your disposal and wash your hands all the time. There's all those little things you can do to help prevent it. It's tough when the fans are looking forward to something like that, but hopefully they understand the other side of it at this point," said Calgary Flames goaltender Cam Talbot.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Wednesday at the close of the annual general managers meetings in Florida that he's ordered a halt to all business-related travel outside North America for league employees.

And if an individual ends up in a location affected by the virus on their own, the NHL is mandating a two-week quarantine before that person can return to work.

"I guess it's a real thing. It's tough. You hope you don't get it from media, either," said Vegas Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith. "You have to be cautious with things like that. I'm sure player appearances are gonna slow down. Other than that, we just focus on hockey."

Canucks captain Bo Horvat says he doesn't plan to halt interacting with people.

"You can't live your life in fear," said Horvat. "You have to be cautious and healthy, but at the same time you want to interact with the fans, you want to make them feel part of it. It's not going to stop me. It might stop other guys, but I always love interacting with people."

Horvat's teammate Chris Tanev feels much the same way.

"I'm living my life the way I am," said Tanev. "It's something that is out of your control. We've been briefed. You're as likely getting it walking to the grocery store as you are going on a plane to China. I don't think anyone in here is too worried about it."

Switzerland's top hockey league postponed its playoffs until the middle of March, while a number of sporting events around the globe have been cancelled as countries struggle to contain the outbreak.

The Ottawa Senators' road game against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night, however, remains on schedule despite a recommendation to cancel large gatherings in the county where the arena is located.

The recommendation was made because of the spread of the coronavirus.

The Sharks encouraged fans to follow another suggestion from the Santa Clara County's Public Health Department, which recommends that "persons at higher risk avoid mass gatherings such as parades, sporting events, and concerts where large numbers of people are within arm's length of one another."

The Sharks announced Friday that all events at SAP Center this weekend will go on as scheduled.

NBA tells teams to plan for games without crowds

The NBA told its teams Friday that they should be developing processes in case it becomes necessary to play games without fans or media because of the coronavirus crisis.

The league sent a memo detailing potential actions teams could need to take "if it were to become necessary to play a game with only essential staff present."

The memo, obtained by The Associated Press, says teams should identify which team and arena people would be necessary to conduct games, and be able to communicate quickly with non-essential staff, as well as ticket holders and corporate partners.

LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers already says he won't play basketball in an empty arena.

"We play games without the fans? Nah, that's impossible," James said. "I ain't playing if I ain't got the fans in the crowd. That's who I play for. I play for my teammates, and I play for the fans. That's what it's all about. So if I show up to an arena and there ain't no fans in there, I ain't playing. They can do what they want to do."

Teams should also be prepared "for the possibility of implementing temperature checks on players, team staff, referees, and anyone else who is essential to conducting such a game in the team's arena."

Contents of the memo were first reported by The Athletic.

The letter also says teams should plan for scenarios in which media could attend games under revised media policies.

The league had already sent a memo to teams this week offering 10 recommendations to players with hopes of decreasing risks of getting the virus — among them, not taking items such as pens, markers, balls and jerseys from autograph seekers.

An NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament game on the campus of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., was played in an empty gym Friday in what was believed to be the first U.S. sports event held without fans because of the coronavirus, though an NCAA COVID-19 advisory panel said it is "not recommending cancellation or public spacing of athletic and related events scheduled to occur in public spaces across the United States."

Calgary Olympic oval cancels international races

Calgary's Olympic speed skating oval has cancelled a pair of international events due to the international outbreak of the new coronavirus.

The long-track Grand Prix scheduled for March 14-15 and the oval's long-track finale March 19-22 have been called off.

Although not as competitively significant as a World Cup, the oval's season-ending events draw international competitors as well as several members of the Canadian team.

A pair of domestic Canada Cup short-track and long-track events will go ahead March 13 and March 19, respectively.

"To compete, Canadian athletes and their coaches/support staff should be free from any illness symptoms for a minimum of 14 days and have not travelled through countries on the UCalgary restricted list, which currently includes China, Hong Kong, Japan, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Singapore," the oval said in a statement Friday.

COVID-19 has cancelled and impacted dozens of sporting events around the world.

Ivanie Blondin is seen at the Olympic Oval in Calgary, Alta., in this file photo from December 2019. A pair of speed skating events scheduled at the venue this month were cancelled on Friday. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

World Cup skiing finals cancelled

Furthermore, Mikaela Shiffrin's chances of extending her three-year reign as overall champion took another hit when the alpine skiing World Cup Finals in Italy were cancelled on Friday because of the virus outbreak.

Shiffrin already lost her lead in the standings because of a month-long absence following the death of her father.

The Italian Winter Sports Federation was hoping to host the finals, scheduled for March 18-22 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, without spectators. But during an emergency International Ski Federation board meeting on Friday, every nation besides Italy voted to cancel the event, the Italian federation said.

"It's with great disappointment that I accept this decision," Italian federation president Flavio Roda said. "Every member of the board made their decision based on limitations that their respective governments have imposed in relation to the virus."

Rules against moving

World Cup rules prevent the finals from being moved to another location.

"This was an extremely difficult decision for us to make, but ultimately welfare and health of the athletes, teams and everyone associated with the World Cup as well as the general public must be our top priority," FIS president Gian Franco Kasper said. "We must respect this very serious situation. We look forward to recognizing the winning athletes at a later date when we can properly celebrate their accomplishments."

The cancellation leaves only two weekends of racing left for the men, with Alexis Pinturault leading the overall standings, 26 points ahead of Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, and 107 points ahead of Henrik Kristoffersen.

The title will be decided by speed races in Kvitfjell, Norway, this weekend, and tech races in Kranjska Gora, Slovenia, next weekend.

The cancellation of the finals means Beat Feuz of Switzerland clinched the downhill title for a third straight year. He leads Thomas Dressen of Germany by 194 points.

Shiffrin among favourites in Sweden

If she races, Shiffrin will be among the favourites in the three races in Are beginning next Thursday: A parallel slalom, giant slalom and slalom.

The American skier announced in a video posted on Instagram that she was flying to Scandinavia this week.

"I have no promises if I'll actually be able to race," Shiffrin said in a six-minute video message that addressed the emotions about her father, Jeff, who died on Feb. 2.

Shiffrin said she trained a little but with difficulty.

Also in contention for the women's title is Petra Vlhova. She is 189 points behind Brignone, who is attempting to become the first Italian woman to win the large crystal globe.

Olympic beach volleyball hopefuls scrambling

Olympic beach volleyball hopefuls Emily Stockman and Kelley Larsen thought they'd have plenty of chances to play themselves into the Tokyo Games during a two-year qualification period that ends with the international tour finale in June.

Since the spread of coronavirus, though, three events in China and Singapore have been postponed until after the Summer Games or cancelled outright, and the five-star World Tour Finals are in Italy, another focus of the outbreak. With four months before the cutoff, teams that need points to catch up in the standings are finding fewer opportunities to earn them.

"It's definitely not ideal," Stockman said this week while preparing to head to a less lucrative three-star event in Australia as planned. "It's definitely adding some pressure for Kelley and I to perform at every single tournament that we are attending now. We're also trying not to stress out about it. We're still training like nothing's going on so that when tournaments do happen, we are ready."

Most beach volleyball teams qualify for the Summer Games by earning points on the international tour, with the five-star majors the most valuable. Each country is limited to two teams in each gender, so the third-best teams from the top countries like Brazil and the U.S. are frequently eliminated even if their point totals placed them among the top 16 teams in the world.

With files from The Associated Press