Anthony Bitetto finally makes his Winnipeg Jets summer camp debut

It was not an easy road travelled for Anthony Bitetto to get from his summer home in Nashville to Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg. But on Thursday, the veteran defenceman finally made his first appearance at the Jets’ summer camp following almost a month of quarantining and recovering from COVID-19.

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The NHL has invoked a privacy policy on injuries and positive tests for the coronavirus going into next weekend’s start of the post-season in Edmonton and Toronto. But Bitetto, as his outgoing personality  would suggest, did not hesitate to get in front of the story before reporters even had the chance to ask him about the lengthy delay of his arrival.

“So I think we just open this up now,” Bitetto said in mid-sentence to the first question about how he was feeling. “June 24th I tested positive for COVID-19.”

The just-turned 30-year-old from Island Park, N.Y., was at his summer home in Nashville and said that because of what was going on in his home state in the early days of the pandemic, he and his wife were even more aware of their situation.

“I had a ton of buddies that got it. Some family members that got it. So the whole time I was like — cautious, cautious — wear a mask everywhere. We were ordering food from the grocery store.”

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Bitetto says Nashville started to open up after that early surge of the coronavirus, and that’s when he contracted it.

“I didn’t have one symptom so I had no idea I had it.

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“That was the scary part — not even knowing you had this virus.”

Bitetto said other than shortness of breath, he was very fortunate to not have to endure the more severe effects that millions of others have, being hospitalized or, worse yet, losing their lives.

“I’ve had the flu before where you’ve felt like absolute garbage. This was not like that at all.”

After serving his time in the quarantine penalty box in both Nashville and when re-entering Canada, Bitetto says he could barely sleep Wednesday night in anticipation of his first workout the following day.

“I was so excited to get here, and when you walk in the room and you’ve got 25, 30 guys — however many we have here — it’s special and it was awesome to be back.”

Bitetto said he has no qualms about his role as a depth player after playing a career-high 51 games this regular season. And nor did he have any hesitation about re-joining the team when he did.

“As long as the team and doctors made sure it was safe for everybody, including myself and everybody that’s going to be around. I did 29 days of quarantining so when I got the green light I was excited and I made sure everybody was comfortable with it.”

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Count Paul Maurice among that group, as well as the rest of Bitetto’s teammates, who the Jets bench boss feels have become pretty well versed on how dealing with COVID-19 works.

“So they’re completely comfortable with it. He’s fun to be around,” said Maurice. “He’s in mid-season chirping form. He doesn’t need a training camp to get back to being a funny guy on the ice.”

And the Jets coach feels the former Nashville and Minnesota blueliner brings an element to the room and on the ice that is a valuable commodity in this current situation.

“We missed him here in camp because it’s unusual that it’s just practices. We’re scrimmaging, but it’s not real. You need these guys on your tougher days. Having him around made for a few laughs. It was good.”

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And Bitetto is also looking at this upcoming post-season as a chance to erase the former Predator’s memories of Nashville’s loss to Pittsburgh in the 2017 Stanley Cup final.

“That was one thing when you’re sitting there in the summer going, we’re coming back to play for the Cup. You don’t get that often. 2017, I was fortunate enough to be on a team that went to the Stanley Cup and lost. I don’t want to be in that situation again, to lose. So I have another opportunity to get there.”

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The Jets took Friday off and are scheduled to skate Saturday and Sunday morning prior to departing for Edmonton to prepare for Wednesday’s exhibition game versus Vancouver, and then, of course, the opener of the play-in round series versus Calgary on Saturday, Aug. 1.

HIGHLIGHTS: Winnipeg Jets Scrimmage – July 17

HIGHLIGHTS: Winnipeg Jets Scrimmage – July 17

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