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Fans not expected to be allowed into Canadian arenas for NHL playoffs

Last Updated May 18, 2021 at 1:45 pm MDT

Empty seats are shown at the Bell Centre during an NHL hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs in Montreal, Saturday, February 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

OTTAWA — Canada’s deputy chief public health officer doesn’t see the country joining the U.S. in allowing fans into arenas during the NHL playoffs, but he isn’t ruling out cross-border travel for later in the post-season.

Dr. Howard Njoo says allowing fans into games is not under “serious consideration” at this point in the COVID-19 pandemic.

All of the American games so far in the playoffs have had fans, with a high of 12,000 for a Carolina Hurricanes home contest against the Nashville Predators on Monday night.

“The prime minister referenced the one-dose summer and what we might be able to do when we get to hopefully 75 per cent or more in terms of the population having received full vaccination, two doses, in the fall and also what that might mean in terms of gatherings … I would say if you look at that timing and what’s the schedule for the NHL playoffs, which is taking place right now and into the summer months, it’s not really something that’s under serious consideration in terms of fans in the stands, just based on where we are with our vaccination campaign at this point,” Njoo said.

The NHL has had Canadian teams play exclusively in the country this year with no fans at any games. The Edmonton Oilers open the North Division playoffs against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday, while the Toronto Maple Leafs start their best-of-seven series against the visiting Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.

The winners square off in the second round before the Canadian survivor faces one of the three remaining American teams in the third round.

Njoo says discussions are ongoing to determine if there can be cross-border travel in the third round and/or the Stanley Cup final.

“The live issue of course right now is what happens when we do get to the final four,” Njoo said.

Njoo said the federal government has had discussions with the provinces to figure out what might be possible.

The issue for the NHL is the 14-day quarantine for those coming in from outside Canada, which would be impossible during a best-of-seven series when one team hosts Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 and the other hosts Games 3, 4 and 6.

If the league and the country can’t come to an agreement on a modified quarantine, the North Division winner could relocate to the U.S. after the second round.

Many Canadian professional teams in other sports with regular cross-border travel have played home games in the U.S. during the pandemic.

Jets coach Paul Maurice said Monday the fans were very noticeable during the American playoff games.

“I really do believe that the only possible silver lining in all of this is the people and the players have just a great appreciation for just how great fans are and the experience for the players, especially,” Maurice said.

“I think it makes a big, big difference.”