Enter Sandman

Positive Covid Test Leaves Sanderson Playing The Waiting Game

BEIJING – On the ice, Jake Sanderson has the ability to deliver big hits and shut down the opposition’s attack.


On the eve of joining his teammates on a transpacific flight to China, the 19-year-old Whitefish, Mont., native found himself on the receiving end of what could be a knockout blow to his Olympic dreams.


During the team’s layover in Los Angeles, where they were going through Olympic in-processing with Team USA, Sanderson tested positive for Covid and was forced to quarantine in a local hotel, where the only game he now plays is the waiting game. He needs to register two consecutive negative tests before he is allowed to travel.


Sanderson arrived in LA on Sunday from Grand Forks, N.D., where he is a student at the University of North Dakota and skated in a training session on Monday at the LA Kings practice facility before being flagged with a positive test. 


Half a world away, U.S. head coach David Quinn is cautiously optimistic that a player he has big plans for will still be able to join the team.


“We’re still holding out hope that he’ll be able to make it over here. There’s still a good chance,” Quinn said after the team’s first practice on Olympic ice.


“You’re talking about a guy who’s a complete player, who does so many things well. There’s a reason why he was picked as high as he was and rightfully so. He’s a guy we are going to count on heavily, so we’re fully anticipating him coming back and we’re gonna need him.”


Sanderson is not the only member of the U.S. team that has had a brush with Covid. Andy Miele and Steve Kampfer, along with assistant coach Brett Larson, all tested positive upon arriving at the Capital International Airport but all three turned out to be false positive tests.


“I tested positive at the airport but it was false positive because I had two negatives a little bit later that day,” Miele said. “So I’m back at it. It was just a sensitive test.”


The loss of Sanderson would be a definite setback before the puck drops. In addition to being one of the rising stars in the game, his teammates miss having the Ottawa Senators top prospect in the locker room.


Sanderson grew up in idyllic town of Whitefish, Mont., near the Canadian border, the son of 15-year NHLer Geoff Sanderson. He learned to skate when he was only 2 years old on a frozen lake behind the family house. 


After cutting his teeth in Montana youth hockey, he left to join USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program where he developed the size and skill to become one of the most sought-after young defensemen in the NHL Draft. He was selected by the Senators with the 5th overall pick but opted to develop his game even further at the University of North Dakota. 


He was also a member of the gold-medal winning U.S. team that won the gold medal at the 2021 IIHF World Championship. He had returned to defend that gold this year in Edmonton but Covid forced the cancellation of the tournament. 


To help soften that blow, Sanderson and his teammates Drew Commesso, Matty Beniers and Brock Faber received the news from U.S. team general manager John Vanbiesbrouck that their Olympic dreams were about to come true. And then came this latest positive test.


“I just feel for him. He’s just an all-around good person and all-around great player,” Beniers said.


“Off the ice he acts like a pro and treats his body great. He’s a great guy to everyone and he leads by example. On the ice, he’s one of the best skaters I’ve seen. He’s kind of the total package.”

The U.S. opens the tournament on Feb. 10 against China before facing Canada the following day and Germany two days later to round out pool play. The addition of Sanderson would not only be a huge addition to the team’s on-ice efforts heading into the knockout phase of the tournament, it would be a morale boost in these Covid-weary times.


“It’s the world we live in,” Quinn said. “ Every team’s going through it and we’re no different.”

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