The Jets were fortunate enough to sweep the Edmonton Oilers in their first-round playoff series and hockey fans were eager to show their excitement even though they couldn’t be in the arena.
While crowds have returned to many sporting venues in the United States, Canadian rinks have remained empty as governments continue to fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Playing in empty stadiums has been tough, DeMelo said, but it’s especially tough now that the NHL playoffs are underway.
“I think it’s hard to see other teams playing, especially in the United States where they basically have full barns, or at least a lot of fans,” said the Jets defenseman.
“These games are a lot more fun to watch than games without fans in the building. “
History will finally change slightly in Canada on Saturday night. With a win in Game 5 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday, the Montreal Canadiens won a trip home to play in front of 2,500 fans after Quebec eased restrictions on COVID-19. It will mark the first crowd at an NHL game in Canada since March 2020, but it will be a far cry from the stages south of the border.
The 2021 NHL season has shown just how much impact fans can make in games, said Catherine Sabiston, professor in the faculty of kinesiology and physical education at the University of Toronto.
Watching US-based events where crowds are allowed “is more like what we’re used to,” she said.
“The room is faster, it’s more lively, you can tell the players are reacting to the noise from the fans,” said Sabiston, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity and Mental Health. in the Canadian playoffs and of course there are no supporters in the stands. A big sort of dichotomy in terms of the piece. “
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan noticed the difference when about 9,000 spectators were cleared into PPG Paints Arena for the opener against the New York Islanders earlier this month.
“It was electric,” Sullivan said after the Penguins downed the Islanders 2-1. “I know our players, they feed off of it. They love the energy that the fan base brings. I think it helped us with the start we had tonight. It’s just such a good environment. It is not the same when they are not there. “
The building “was going crazy,” Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson said.
“Anytime you look up and those towels are spinning around with so many people in the building, especially with everything going on in the world and the fact that we haven’t been able to have everyone in the building this season, seeing that gives you chills and really sets a spark in our team, ”he said.
It was a very different scene for the first two playoff games in Winnipeg, with white towels covering all the empty seats to replicate the traditional playoff whiteout.
Performing in front of a live audience gives athletes a sense of purpose that just isn’t there with a fake noise being broadcast over a public address system, Sabiston said.
“Fans help players who thrive thanks to the motivation they receive from fans, the confidence that fans instill in them, positive – or negative – comments motivate players to play differently, to play better,” a- she declared. “It really is. what we lack. “
An NBA player found motivation in a hostile crowd earlier this week.
More than 15,000 noisy Knicks fans packed Madison Square Garden to watch Game 1 of the New York City First Round Series against Atlanta. Many made fun of Hawks star Trae Young every time he stepped on the floor, chanting his name with a curse up front.
Young took the noise of the stride and had 32 points and 10 assists.
With less than a second on the clock, he hit a shot that gave the Hawks a 107-105 victory. The 22-year-old guard raised his finger to his lips as he walked away from the basket.
“As I touched the float, everyone fell silent. I was expecting those f-you chants again, ”Young said after the game.
“I always thought of it as if I was doing something right if I offended them so much with my game. If they hate me that much, I have to do something right.
“I’m glad the fans are back. I’m glad the MSG is moving tonight. “
The return of the crowds to sporting events has not been smooth.
On Sunday, hundreds of golf fans broke through barriers and surrounded Phil Mickelson on the green as he claimed his PGA Championship victory. An aerial shot of the scene showed the 50-year-old completely engulfed by the South Carolina crowd.
“It’s an incredible experience. I’ve never had anything like it, ”Mickelson said. “It was a bit annoying, but it was also exceptionally great. “
There are lessons to be learned from the live audience’s return, said Sabiston, from where they should be seated to know what catchphrases they should be asked to sing in order to better motivate a team.
It’s also an opportunity to learn more about the impact of noise on athletes, she said, and at what level it becomes too difficult for teammates to communicate.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said the noise inside Boston’s TD Garden was unbelievable when about 4,500 people watched his team beat the Washington Capitals in double overtime on May 19.
“It’s loud because we’re so used to silence. I can only imagine when it gets back to full capacity, ”Cassidy said. “But for us at the moment it’s great. Obviously, overtime for us is the loudest. It looked like a solid building when it came in. “
The Bruins have announced that they expect the arena to be “near full capacity” when they face the Islanders in the second round.
Getting the bodies back to sports venues in Canada has been a slower process.
On May 18, Dr Howard Njoo, deputy director of public health for Canada, said allowing fans to participate in games was not “seriously considered.”
“I would say if you look at this moment and what the schedule is for the NHL playoffs, which are going on right now and during the summer months, it’s not really something that is seriously considered in terms of fans in the stands, just depending on where we are with our vaccination campaign at this point, ”he said.
Later in the day, however, Quebec gave the green light to the Canadiens to have 2,500 fans for a possible Game 6.
The ability to play in front of the fans was motivation ahead of a possible playoff game on Thursday, Canadiens forward Tyler Toffoli said.
“It’s definitely in the back of our minds. We definitely missed it this year all season, ”he said. “Having the opportunity to play even in front of the small number that will be allowed is enormous. and it will be a lot of fun. “
Another factor to watch out for when people return to live sporting events is how connected fans feel to their teams, Sabiston said.
“The fans feel like they have a say or a reaction that makes a difference for the athletes,” she said. “So a lot of that feeling of cohesion and connection with the team will also be important to follow over time. “
Ben Schellenberg, assistant professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management at the University of Manitoba, examined how NBA fans were affected when the league suspended play as COVID-19 began to strike. take over North America in 2020.
Schellenberg and his colleagues asked fans to fill out surveys to gauge how they felt during the break, what they were doing to cope and how they were spending their free time.
Research found that fans with an ‘obsessive passion’ that dominates their lives and identities reported higher levels of distress, avoided news of the suspension, were less likely to agree with the setting. break of the season and were more likely to use drugs and alcohol to cope.
“It shows that there is a consistent relationship between the extent to which a person is obsessed with being a fan and how distressed they are when their favorite sport is canceled or suspended for whatever reason,” he said. Schellenberg said.
Sport provides people with an escape and a social connection, he added.
“During a pandemic, we don’t have the right to be social with people and we have a lot to escape. And when the sport is canceled, it can be difficult for people, ”said Schellenberg. “Even though there are no fans in the stand I think playing games that people can sit and watch and escape from the world for a few hours, I don’t think it is. futile to give people an outlet. “
While people need sports, some athletes and coaches also feel they need a live audience.
Having people in the building adds to the energy level, said Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice, and in an empty rink it’s harder to change the momentum of a game – especially in the playoffs. playoffs.
“The further you go, you sort of play on the smoke. And it’s not even just physical, it’s emotional, ”he said. “The fans are driving him. The further you go in the playoffs, that’s just the emotional good you tap into. ” Winnipeg is heading into the second round of the playoffs without a glimmer of hope of playing in front of a crowd in the near future. – hit Manitoba. For now, the team will be content with the loud support fans have provided from afar.
After the Jets beat the Oilers 4-3 in triple overtime on Monday, horns sounded through the city streets, with many people clapping and lifting brooms from their cars to celebrate the sweep.
People living in the heart of the city were unlikely to be thrilled with the timing, with the festivities taking place around 3 a.m., Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey said.
“But that makes it pretty special, coming home after the game and seeing some streets lined with cars,” he said. People are waiting to wave at us and celebrate in the best possible way at this point. the weather was pretty cool. “