A man watches the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at a bar in Montreal, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

A man watches the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs at a bar in Montreal, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Fans still drawn to arenas despite secure zones as NHL returns to ice

Many fans watching in bars, however, seemed to appreciate the precautions the bars were taking

It was almost 30 C as Edmonton Oilers fan Darnell Belcourt stood outside the protective bubble that surrounds Rogers Place and waited for the puck to drop in the team’s opening qualifying round game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The jumbo screen he was watching was inside the fence that surrounded a plaza that’s intended for players, coaches and staff to relax outdoors, but a few fans like Belcourt still felt it was the best place to watch as the NHL resumed its COVID-19 truncated season on Saturday.

“I’m going to be here every game. Next time I’m going to bring a chair, though,” Belcourt laughed as he alternated between standing on concrete and sitting on the small window ledge of a nearby office building.

Comfy chairs and cold beer weren’t far away, however, as many fans filled bars near Rogers Place — at least as much as new social-distancing rules would allow.

“It’s going on right there!” exclaimed Hanna Warawa, who watched the game on a screen set up on the patio of Mercer’s Tavern, directly across the street from the arena.

David Clanahan, who watched at the Thrift Shop bar not far away, said August seemed like a weird time to watch hockey. But hot as it was, he still wore a jersey.

“It’s way too hot, but worth it,” he said.

In Toronto, the streets around Scotiabank Arena and its nearby secure zone were relatively quiet when the first game between the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes began earlier on Saturday.

Many nearby restaurants were closed and much of the perimeter around the arena was blocked off. Kellys Landing Bar Grill Hub Restaurant was showing the games on its screens near the arena but had many tables available — a better indication of interest in Canada’s biggest city might come Sunday night when the host Maple Leafs open against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Jordan Alexander, manager of Sport Chek at Maple Leaf Square near the arena, said they’re selling about one-eighth the amount of Leafs merchandise compared to Toronto Raptors items in recent weeks. The Raptors also began their restart on Saturday near Orlando, Fla.

Alexander figured some streets might be shut down for some fanfare, but that didn’t happen and so far “it’s been pretty minimal impact.”

“I was expecting to see fans waiting to see the players,” he said. “I thought people might come down, but people have been respectful in terms of giving space and all of that. “

Self-described “massive Leafs fans” Michael Papaeliou and Alyssa Derosario made a day trip to the city from Markham, Ont., to visit the Hockey Hall of Fame and possibly catch a game on TV at a restaurant Saturday.

“So excited for it to return,” Papaeliou said. “The NHL is doing a really great job, better than any other league, to make this work.”

They praised the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and the blockades set up around the Fairmont Royal York, one of two hotels the NHL is using in Toronto.

“Especially in a city like Toronto that’s so busy, it’s good to see that they’re practising the right rules and regulations safety-wise,” said Derosario.

During the Oilers-Blackhawks game in Edmonton, about 40 adults and children stood on Jasper Avenue not far from Rogers Place protesting an indoor mask bylaw that went into effect in the city Saturday.

Many fans watching in bars, however, seemed to appreciate the precautions the bars were taking, such as requiring people to sanitize their hands when they entered.

“It seemed like the best way to still watch the game around some people but still taking some reasonable safety precautions,” Clanahan said.

Nicholas O’Connell, who was also at Thrift Shop, said he had his mask, and was just thankful hockey was back.

“We didn’t think we’d be sitting here a couple of months ago because of COVID, and now we’re able to hang out with our friends which is pretty good.”

— With files from Victoria Ahearn in Toronto and Donna Spencer in Edmonton.

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusNHL

Just Posted

Willow, a kitten belonging to a Victoria family, was rescued by firefighters on Thursday after she got stuck in a basement drain pipe. (City of Victoria/Twitter)
Victoria kitten stuck in basement drain pipe rescued by firefighters

Willow the cat on the mend, owner feeling ‘enormous gratitude’

Terry Fong embraces his best friend Princeton at Incinerator Rock, which became the travelling companions’ favourite spot during five years of exploring. (Cam Shaw photo)
Tofino played key role in inspirational dog’s journey

Terry Fong explains his recently published book, ‘Princeton - A Love Story’

Standardized foundation skills assessment tests in B.C. schools will be going ahead later than usual, from Feb. 16 to March 12 for students in Grades 4 and 7. (Black Press Media file photo)
COVID-affected school year perfect time to end standardized tests: Greater Victoria teacher union

Foundational skills testing of Grade 4 and 7 students planned for February ad March

Myla Bui holds up one of the paper cranes she made which have raised $31,031 for the Help Fill A Dream Foundation. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Cut out for this: sister of Leila Bui helps sick kids with 1,001 cranes each

Young Saanich philanthropist raises $31,031 for sick kids, folds thousands of paper cranes

Sooke’s Jim Bottomley is among a handful of futurists based in Canada. “I want to help people understand the future of humanity.” (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
No crystal ball: Island man reveals how he makes his living predicting the future

63-year-old has worked analytical magic for politicians, car brands, and cosmetic companies

Keith the curious kitten is seen on Nov. 4, 2020 at the Chilliwack SPCA. Friday, Jan. 22, 2021 is Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 17 to 23

Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day, Pie Day and International Sweatpants Day are all coming up this week

(Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
‘Targeted’ shooting in Coquitlam leaves woman in hospital

The woman suffered non-life threatening injuries in what police believe to be a targetted shooting Saturday morning

A fire sparked at an encampment between the Pat Bay Highway and McKenzie Avenue early Thursday morning. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Residents of Pat Bay Highway encampment to be relocated after early morning fire, site secured for clean up

Eviction notice issued in 2020, not enforced to allow BC Housing to connect with campers

Victoria’s Canoe Brewpub will soon be the eighth Craft Beer Market location in Canada. (Google Maps)
Craft Beer Market buys Victoria’s Canoe Brewpub

Craft Beer Market operates nine locations across Canada

The Neighbourhood Market at Saanich Baptist Church is one of 10 that provide fresh produce to people in need across Greater Victoria. (Jane Skrypnek/News Staff)
Daily free food markets offer fresh produce to Greater Victorians in need

Ten Neighbourhood Markets operate across the region

AnimalKind, the BC SPCA’s animal welfare accreditation and referral program, has granted accreditation to Courtenay’s K9 Kind Dog Training & Behaviour Consulting, owned and operated by Carrie Lumsden. Photo supplied
Comox Valley dog trainer joins select club

Carrie Lumsden receives special BC SPCA accreditation

Victoria artist Noah Layne is conducting online workshops on portrait drawing as part of the Metchosin ArtPod’s About Face portrait show. (Photo courtesy of Noah Layne)
Metchosin Art Pod doing an about-face

Renowned artist Noah Layne hosting online classes in portrait drawing

A still from surveillance footage showing a confrontation in the entranceway at Dolly’s Gym on Nicol Street on Friday morning. (Image submitted)
Troublemaker in Nanaimo fails at fraud attempt, slams door on business owner’s foot

VIDEO: Suspect causes pain and damage in incident downtown Friday morning

Most Read