BUFFALO – In back-to-back outings prior to testing positive for COVID-19, Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen played a total of 55 minutes, more than any player who participated in those games.
But the virus weakened the 6-foot-4, 221-pound Ristolainen so much he struggled to walk up the stairs of his home, he told a Finnish newspaper. He said Thursday morning he had no idea what could happen next as he battled COVID-19. He experienced a new symptom every day.
Then after one week, he started feeling better.
“So I was kind of feeling, ‘Hey, maybe it’s over now,’” Ristolainen said on a Zoom call after skating with the Sabres Thursday morning inside KeyBank Center. “But then after a few good days it came again with some new weird symptoms.”
Ristolainen’s harrowing bout with COVID-19 ended last week. He was taken out of the NHL’s protocol Feb. 16, exactly two weeks after he tested positive.
The Finn, one of seven Sabres players who tested positive for COVID-19, started skating last week and participated in his first team session Thursday morning. He did not play in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils.
“Right now, I feel really good,” Ristolainen said. “(My) energy level has been getting better every day since (the) last six days I’ve been and working out. So that’s all good. Yeah, it’s been a long three weeks, and really tough the first two weeks.”
Ristolainen knows he needs more time so his body can handle a heavy workload.
“Talking to people who had COVID in the past, I heard it takes some time to get back (to) 100 percent,” he said. “(That was) the shape I was in playing back-to-back games against New Jersey (on Jan 30 and 31), 26, 27 minutes and I didn’t even feel tired. Yeah, I’m not there, but right now I feel I’m really close and I feel really good.”
Ristolainen said he tested positive for COVID-19 at “probably the worst time ever.” He was enjoying perhaps the best start of his eight-year career, averaging 23 minutes, 34 seconds of ice time in the first 10 games.
Fans will be allowed to attend select Sabres games at KeyBank Center starting on March 20, the team announced Thursday.
New York State will not allow capacity to exceed 10%, so about 1,970 fans could be allowed in the building that seats 19,700.
Fans must provide proof of a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the game.
Season ticket holders will have the first chance purchase tickets.
Sabres winger Tobias Rieder missed his second straight game (upper body) but skated with his teammates Thursday morning.
The Sabres recalled goalie Dustin Tokarski from the Rochester Americans to the taxi squad before the game.