What it’s like to be at an NHL game without fans


TORONTO – What you notice are the things that are obviously missing, of course. The scalpers, sweater fans and the vertiginous buzz that gravitate around an NHL rink on game day. And you marvel at how easy it is to find a decent parking spot so close to the stop.

But you also notice the things that have always been there, only buried under the thick coverage of sports hype and noise.

You remember the essential purity of hockey when you take off the kissing cameras and the beer vendors and those sponsor logo t-shirts that drop from the rafters.

With no crowds to entertain (and a game operations team throwing all sorts of crazy spaghetti at the wall to do so) and no products to push, the sounds of a live NHL game have over six feet of space to. breathe.

The crunch of two adults colliding with the boards, the beaver tail of a puck-hungry open winger and the constant noise of the game is music to our ears: “Come down low, come down low!”… “No ice!”… “Wheel, wheel, wheel, wheel.”

Don’t get me wrong: When Conor Sheary shoots the first NHL goal since spring break, House of Pain’s “Jump Around” is still ringing over the arena’s speakers. The point is, no one jumps.

You know when a wealthy baron hires Drake for, say, a kajillion dollars to travel to Dubai and host a private concert for his daughter’s sweet 16th birthday? That’s what it’s like to be here – watching Sidney Crosby and Sean Couturier create scoring chances for your eyes only – feels. I guess.

It’s the sounds of hockey that attract you. They don’t make you miss seeing the dude who swallowed six $ 18 Coors Lights dance to “Cotton-Eyed Joe”. You don’t want The Wave.

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As Crosby wins the first hockey comeback draw, you think, for the 87th time, how strange it is. All.

A text from your wife appears: “Enjoy it, Luke. The world is a perfect mess.

Hearing blades cut through crispy ice cream or catch slap-thwack-thud from a pointed-end shot to be kicked out by Tristan Jarry’s pad? This stuff is contagious… under the safest conditions imaginable, of course.

If you can overcome the weirdness of an NHL game without fans, the exclusivity is so thrilling, you feel like you’ve snuck into the place.

That would be the farthest thing from the truth, however.

To access the first National Hockey League game played under pandemic lockdown – a morning of exhibition rivalry pitting the Penguins against the “home team” Flyers on Tuesday – you need to download the Clear app, scan your government ID card, walk away from doors by two security guards because you are too close to the real bubble, locate the appropriate entry door, pass two temperature checks, answer a series of symptom questions by yes or no (in line and again at the gate), take the elevator from Scotiabank Arena to level 300 with no more than two other passengers, then find your seat in section 311.

Always mask.

Arena workers move around with Lysol wipes, cleaning seats that no one is sitting in or can sit in later. Staff scramble to give the team benches full disinfection between rules. All players have tested negative more times than they can count at this point. Ice teams are now equipped with face masks as well as shovels for their TV timing functions.

On your makeshift multimedia desk – where nosebleed seat holders would sit, drink and scream in another universe – are a bottle full of hand sanitizer and a packet of antibacterial wipes.

At some point, you will realize that you have 311 for yourself. Your nearest neighbor has 312 to himself, and you would need a healthy step or two to kick a soccer ball far enough to hook it.

You might have a better chance of getting sick if you watched the game on the couch with the window down. Or if you bought one of the affordable $ 14 Egg Salad Sandwiches on sale in the lobby (no line, though!).

When the crowd was sorely absent, it was with the 2-1 Philly score at the end of the third. Closed game, no atmosphere. No ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ opportunities to tie the late contest. No eruption of cheers accompanies the tied goal of Jason Zucker who sends the thing into overtime, nor the stopwatch of Scott Laughton who wins it for the Flyers.

On this day – first day of the hockey game, after 140 decidedly more boring – COVID-19 is going through the Miami Marlins of the MLB. Baseball playoffs are postponed to dates unknown. Chartered planes do not leave the runway.

“We are in a bubble. Major League Baseball is not, ”said Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, and he made a strong, albeit clear, point.

The fact that the 12 of us are here is a testament to the desire of the NHL and its player association to find a way, to make it work in the middle of the summer, in the middle of the crisis.

Think about it, the average annual break between NHL games during a typical offseason, from the Cup stage to the preseason, is 98 days.

This significant / insignificant tilt of the Penguins-Flyers took 140 days.

“Five months ago, I never imagined you would stand in front of an artificial intelligence computerized machine that tells you your temperature and gives you a green or red light to continue your day,” Toronto Says Kyle Dubas, Managing Director of the Maple Leafs. “If you had told me five months ago that we were going to be there, I never would have believed it. We’re just thrilled to have the chance to be back and play.

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Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan took a few moments of his in-depth charts and Crosby’s health updates to consider the little history his team helped make on Tuesday, in the lonely spotlight.

“What I thought about was the importance of sport during a difficult time, and how passionate people are about the respective sports and the role we play in society,” Sullivan says.

“I also think of the enormous undertaking that the league has tried to put in place here. Having spent a few days now in the central city, in the ‘bubble’, so to speak, I’m so impressed with the organization and the attention to detail with what the league has gone through trying to keep our players safe. and our coaches are safe and everyone involved safe – and, at the same time, allows the competitive spirit to take place.

“Sport plays an important role in our society”, continues the trainer, answering virtually to a journalist whom he does not see, in 311.

“For me, this is an important time for our league and our game and, perhaps more importantly, for our fans. ”

Even if they didn’t have the chance to throw a snowball at Santa Claus in hell to witness it.


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