NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said only four players have not received the COVID-19 vaccine as the 2021-22 season got underway on Tuesday.

Bettman hailed the vaccination rates prior to the season-opening game between two-time reigning Stanley Cup champions the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins.

It comes as other sports struggle with the coronavirus virus status of some of their players – NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving will not play or practice with the Brooklyn Nets until he is allowed to be a full participant as he remains unvaccinated.

"Our vaccination rate is incredible," Bettman said. "Four players, not four percent of players. All of our officials are vaccinated. All of the personnel that come into contact with the players are vaccinated."

Bettman added: "Throughout all of this, we had great collaboration and cooperation with the players and Players' Association. This doesn't happen to get to this point without that collaboration and cooperation. Yes, the players have stepped up to get vaccinated, but even thinking about how the players had to function the last two years, to go into the bubble.

"I spent three weeks there, I get it, but there were some who had to spend eight weeks there. Having to adhere to the protocols last season so we could administer 330,000 tests to keep everybody healthy.

"The fact that we were in the bubble and I think we did 35,000 tests and didn't have one positive. Everybody banded together to do the right thing. Maybe that's why hockey is the ultimate team sport."

"We continue to reinforce the fact that everybody has to remain vigilant, particularly when we have teams traveling the way our teams typically do so we don't lose sight of this fact," Bettman said. "It's something we take very seriously."

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