Alberta Health has provided an exemption for a small number of special fans to be in the stands for Game 1 of the NHL playoff series between the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made the announcement during a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“Alberta Health has approved an exemption for 12 of Alberta’s front-line healthcare workers to attend Game 1 of the Oilers, Jets playoff series, watch the Oilers beat the Jets and to stand when the anthem is sung by Rob Clarke tonight at Rogers Place.”
With COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting any indoor gatherings, it was expected there would be no fans in the crowd when the two teams kicked off the first round of playoffs.
“This is just a small token of Alberta’s appreciation for the tireless work protecting Albertans over these very difficult 15 months from all of our healthcare workers,” Kenney said.
“While we certainly would love to be able to welcome more fans into Rogers Place to watch the Oilers make their run to the Stanley Cup, I think it’s fitting to start with those who have faced down this pandemic on the front lines and helped us all to make it through.”
While appearing on 630 CHED Afternoons with J’lyn Nye, play-by-play announcer Jack Michaels was pretty blunt about what it’s like to be in Rogers Place without any fans.
“It was lame,” he said. “I’d rather do it than do it off a monitor the way we did in the bubble last year, but it was lame.”
Last season, 630 CHED’s broadcast team initially couldn’t get into Rogers Place at all at first and all games were called from a makeshift studio in a CHED boardroom, several kilometres away from the arena.
It’s not just the difference in the arena that Michaels notices — it’s the change in vibe downtown as a whole on game nights.
“The streets were just alive downtown. It was a lot of fun.”
The Oilers played a bubble season last year and an additional 56 games without fans this year, so Michaels thinks they’re used to the difference.
“I think guys like Zack Kassian, who typically feeds off the crowd, has had now a real long time to get used to it. Not that it was an excuse last year, but I don’t think it’s going to be a factor this year.”
Fernando Pisani was vital to the Edmonton Oilers playoff run in 2006 and remembers how much he fed off the crowd during home games, and even some away games as fans travelled to Raleigh, North Caroline to cheer on their team.
Playing without that energy, would be tough, he said. He can’t imagine doing it.
“I always remember when I got to the rink and we were waiting for the call for warm up, you can feel the energy,” he told 630 CHED Mornings with Daryl McIntyre. “You can feel the whole place was just buzzing.
“That makes you as a player like, ‘Oh, boy, here we go. This is fun.’ This is why you play the game — for these opportunities. So going to into a rink and manufacture — that’s not easy.”
But the Oilers Entertainment Group is trying to do its best to replicate some of that energy.
The iconic orange pompoms that any Oilers fan would recognize have been put out on the seats of Rogers Place, brand new playoff tarps have been installed to refresh the arena and a new opening has been produced.
“It’s going to hearken back to the famous ‘Let’s Go Oilers’ chant that we hear every home game that, in particular in the playoffs, was so darn loud you couldn’t even hear yourself talk,” Tim Shipton with the OEG said with a laugh.
The organization has also asked fans to sing along with Rob Clarke during O Canada and they plan to feed that back into the arena, so the team can see and hear fans cheering and singing along.
“We hope that that connection will be made.”
The puck drops Wednesday night at 7 p.m., but the action starts on 630 CHED at 5 p.m. with an extended Faceoff Show.