Wednesday night’s game at Bell MTS Place between the Winnipeg Jets and the Montreal Canadiens was a notable one for many reasons: it marked the beginning of the second round of the NHL playoffs, and the first time that fans, even a small number of them, were allowed back in the arena.
It also included a moving pre-game ceremony in recognition of the 215 Indigenous children whose bodies were found in unmarked burial sites at a residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
Winnipeg singer-songwriter Don Amero was joined on the ice by two Indigenous knowledge keepers for a haunting version of the national anthem.
“It was very moving. It was really something special for sure,” True North Sports and Entertainment executive Kevin Donnelly told 680 CJOB.
“It was really interesting to see the players, on our team especially, gathering in a semi-circle and staring up at the screen and really taking in the moment.
“We need these reminders on a daily basis. We are part of this community, this is the world we live in, so we try to really pay attention to all of these things.”
A group of 500 fully vaccinated healthcare workers were also taking in the game — the first time the Jets have allowed any fans in the seats since March 9, 2020.
“We learned how emotionally attached we are, as an organization, to having people come join us,” Donnelly said.
“I had a number of staff tell me today they got caught up when they saw the crowd lined up outside or people coming and waving the flags, so it really was great to get back at it.
“It was really great the frontline workers were able to join us and we’re looking forward to being able to do it again.”
Although the night ended with the Jets down 1-0 in the playoff series, the players said seeing the fans in the crowd gave them a boost.
“It was awesome. I hope more and more are allowed to come in and wave those white flags, because this is playoffs, you only get this vibe once a year,” said Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
“You don’t know how many games you’re going to get out of it, so I would definitely be excited to see more fans.”