A little more than a week ago, the man they call “Big Rig” had not yet checked his phone. Responding to text messages is likely one of the last tasks in Jamie Oleksiak’s morning routine. He was walking to his car when he finally opened that message. That’s when he stopped walking. The 28-year-old admitted reading those words figuratively and literally stopped him in his tracks.
In that moment, all Oleksiak could think about was the timing.
How could this happen? How could this happen hours before boarding a flight to play the first game in Seattle Kraken history? How when he is fully vaccinated and felt great? Now he’s having to wrestle with all of this before even getting out of his driveway.
“That threw a wrench in my plans,” Oleksiak recalled.
Oleksiak was one of the first of many within the Seattle Kraken organization who quickly learned that this was only the beginning.
Maiden voyages are supposed to be historically memorable events. The Kraken’s first road trip was indeed that. But this proved be an adventure that went well beyond playing five games in five states over eight days in three different time zones. And it started before the Kraken even left the city.
Two days before flying to Las Vegas, Kraken forward Calle Jarnkrok tested positive and was placed into COVID-19 protocol. A day later, Oleksiak along with Joonas Donskoi, Marcus Johansson and Jared McCann were also entered into those protocols.
Suddenly the Kraken were down five players and forced to figure out how to make up for those losses. Johansson was cleared right before the team flight to Las Vegas to play the Golden Knights, and the gradual understanding was that Jarnkrok might not be available for some time.
Determining what was going to happen with Donskoi, McCann and Oleksiak was a mystery. To the outside world. To the front office. To the players themselves.
“I went to the rink and got a negative test,” Oleksiak recalled. “It was a waiting game to get a second test and the results after that.”
He was not alone. Oleksiak was in a group chat with Donskoi and McCann. Those three remained in contact, as they eventually learned all three were going to be cleared to play after receiving consecutive negative tests. From there, it became a conversation about how they were going to get to Vegas before the start of the game.
The Kraken secured a private plane that transported them to Las Vegas where they arrived at the team hotel around four hours before puck drop.
“It’s not the worst way to travel! There are worse ways to do it!” Oleksiak said with a laugh. “They take really good care of us here. It was, in a way, a positive going to the game like that. You are not overthinking things and it’s all about just going out there and playing and making the most of the situation.”